Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Seanad Bill 2016 - Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m.; No. 2, Private Members' business, Rent Certainty (No. 2) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 3, statements on judicial appointments and threatened industrial action by An Garda Síochána, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of each group not to exceed eight minutes each - Members may share time - and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 6.55 p.m.

I raise the issue of the extra expenditure on education announced in the budget yesterday, which will only just meet the extra demand on education services. It will not improve the quality of education being provided for young people. The numbers attending primary and secondary education next year will grow by up to 12,000, and the extra 2,400 teachers will not impact the pupil-teacher ratio but will rather just meet the demand of those 12,000 extra pupils.

Irish classes are the most overcrowded in the European Union with a ratio, on average, of 25:1 in a class on a good day. Last week I raised in the Seanad the issue of a DEIS school in my area which has a pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1. I ask the Minister to re-examine the way the criteria for DEIS schools are implemented. That was not raised in the budget yesterday and it is an issue we need to tackle, especially in the light of the commitment to provide extra gardaí and the extra expenditure on education. Unless the educational needs of people living in disadvantaged areas are addressed, we will not see any improvement in terms of giving children every opportunity. It is incumbent on us to make that investment in children's education and not do nothing. The announcement in the budget yesterday only just meets the demand in terms of the 12,000 additional pupils. We need to go over and above that to ensure we give children the best education possible to allow them take up foreign direct investment jobs in the future. We want to give them the best in life.

People cannot get their teeth cleaned if they have a medical card. This is Mental Health Week and getting one's teeth cleaned not only goes some way towards ensuring mouth cancer and other diseases are identified at an early stage but also to improving one's self-esteem. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to look into that issue. Up until 2008, one could get one's teeth cleaned twice a year. There is not much incentive to go to the dentist for a regular check-up. However, it might be an incentive for people to go to have their teeth cleaned, which would ensure their oral health was maintained. It would save the Exchequer in the long term because mouth cancer and other diseases can be identified at an early stage.

I was disappointed that so few Senators attended in the Chamber for the budget debate yesterday. At one point I looked around and there was only one Fianna Fáil Senator and one Fine Gael Senator in the Chamber.

There are many occasions on which there is no Sinn Féin Senator present. The Senator's comment is irrelevant to the Order of Business.

We had two hours to discuss the budget.

It is not relevant to comment on Senators who were not present for a debate. Sometimes there are genuine reasons for it. The Senator should remember that I allowed 30 minutes last night beyond what was agreed to allow two extra Sinn Féin Members people to contribute.

You did and I appreciated it, but yesterday was an important day and I would have liked to have seen a greater attendance in the Seanad for the debate on the budget.

When people like the Senator raise that issue in good faith, it sometimes comes back to bite them.

It may do, but I am allowed express an opinion and I am not-----

(Interruptions).

Generally, if Senators are missing for whatever reason, it is not appropriate to say they were not present or raise the issue of poor attendance. There may have been good reasons for it.

In fairness, I did not mention names.

I accept that.

I am just saying that, as a new Senator, I was a little surprised that there was not a bigger interest in the discussion in the Seanad on an important issue such the budget. I will leave it at that.

The budget failed to demonstrate a real and tangible commitment to decades of neglect in rural Ireland. If this is the best the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combo has to offer on the centenary of 1916, it is surely time for an alternative.

The 2017 budget patched together by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Independents clearly demonstrates a lack of urgency in addressing the real issues facing rural families and communities. Do they not understand that if we continue to do the same thing we have always done, we will get the same results? I refer to high emigration, unemployment, the working poor, struggling families, issues with schools, and post office closures. At a time when we need vision and bold ideas to rejuvenate rural Ireland and address regional imbalance, we get promises of another action plan and crumbs from the table of the Government.

While it is welcome that some of the measures proposed in the Sinn Féin alternative budget have been taken on board, such as the improvements to farm assist and the 500 additional places on the rural social scheme, the failure to address the cost of living will leave families struggling. The famous five increases for pensioners and some social welfare recipients will not remain in their pockets for long when they pay their property tax, prescription charges, telephone and energy bills. More than the 85,000 people over the age of 65 years will continue living in deprivation under the Government. The Government was more about the two parties keeping each other on board rather than addressing the serious problems of rural Ireland. Young people on social welfare continue to be discriminated against. These are the same young people who are expected to clothe, feed and house themselves while looking for work and paying extortionate car insurance, all on €100 per week. They are not magicians.

Sinn Féin is the only alternative that will genuinely reduce the cost of living and invest in public services and the only alternative that will build an all-Ireland economy while investing in long-term growth. We can only achieve that by building a tax system that is fair and equitable. Promises to close the door after the horse has bolted to address tax avoidance measures will ring hollow for those who have suffered most because the wealthiest in this country and beyond have been facilitated to make obscene profits without having to pay tax.

The litmus test of the budget will be whether it provides beds for the sick and elderly lying on trolleys, whether it tackles the 530,000 people on waiting lists for appointments, whether it provides meaningful treatment and supports for children with special needs and adults with disabilities and whether it gives a break to carers or facilitates job creation that pays a decent wage.

I suppose in the aftermath of a budget, perhaps it is easy to don the political jersey and find everything that is negative in it, but I do not think that it is necessarily fair or adds anything to the political debate in this country. There are good things in the budget and anybody with a fair mind would acknowledge that. However, I would like the Leader to address two issues which concern children. These are two issues in which we expected the advancements of the past few years would have been built on. One is the issue of class sizes and the second is the issue of free GP care for those under 12 years. When an improvement is made over a number of years, it is a reasonable expectation that this improvement would be continued.

In the past few years class sizes in primary schools have not been made worse. They have not been increased. In budget 2016 the pupil-teacher ratio was decreased at primary and secondary level. It was reduced by one point at primary level where the issue is acute. The expectation was that over a number of years, it would gradually be brought down. That did not happen in yesterday's budget. I am a little disturbed by that because surely when we now have resources to invest in areas that are clearly crying out for investment, class size is one of those issues that affects every school-going child in primary school and their parents. Many children in large classes will do fine because they can achieve in any circumstances but children with special educational needs or behavioural difficulties are the ones who will benefit from smaller class sizes. The vision of going from having the largest class sizes in Europe to progressively bringing down that pupil-teacher ratio is something I thought would continue from last year but it has not happened. I think we should have a discussion on that in this Chamber.

Again, we made a huge advance on the issue of free GP care for children under the age of six years. I felt at the time it was a major advance that also would be continued. Again, for some reason, free GP care for those under 12 years has slipped below the radar. The children of Ireland who had a reasonable expectation that their class sizes would have come down and that free GP care for those under 12 years would also have been introduced will be a bit surprised. Where is the Government's vision for those two areas?

I wish to speak about the insurance industry. Rises in motor insurance have been highlighted a lot in the past couple of weeks. I would like to talk about my personal experience two years ago when a protestor jumped on my car and falsely accused me of a hit and run and being drunk at the time. I reported it to the insurance company I was dealing with and lost my no-claims bonus for reporting it. When I rang other companies to get cheaper insurance, I was told that I could not go anywhere. I had to stay with the company and pay nearly three times the amount my premium should have been. It went on for 15 or 16 months. When my insurance came up for renewal, I rang the insurance company and was put through to the claims department. Thankfully, the person in question had made no claim because it was totally untrue and fabricated. It was in all the national newspapers. It was a terrible time for my family and me. What I found out by default from the claims department of this insurance company was that €21,000 was set aside for this lady if she did claim. She did not claim. This person could have claimed and I would have been told it had nothing to do with me anymore and the insurers would sort it out. If this is happening in the insurance industry, no wonder our insurance costs have gone up by 30% or 40%. It must be looked at and regulated. I have heard that this is happening in several insurance companies where they put this amount away once there is a claim or a reported claim. It is just not good enough. We need to debate the insurance industry, we need the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to come to the House and we need new legislation when it comes to the claims system.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to come to the House at some point to discuss the delay affecting the national broadband scheme? As everyone knows, access to and quality of broadband are critical for business in rural Ireland. Never mind job creation, job retention is totally dependent on it. We have seen many dates come and go. We were told initially that 90% of houses and businesses would be connected by the end of 2015. The figure then changed to 85% by the end of 2019 and then to 100% by 2022. It now looks like it will be 2023 before quality broadband is rolled out. People and businesses need to know what the exact dates are for this because it is vitally important, particularly for rural Ireland. Perhaps the Leader might consider asking the Minister to come to the House to address us on this issue.

In respect of the comments from my colleague from Sinn Féin, it is an awful pity Sinn Féin was not as enthusiastic about getting involved in the budget process during the formation of the Government. Perhaps if it had done so rather than sit on its hands, it might have less to complain about this morning.

I will briefly respond to Senator Robbie Gallagher who is also a Donegal man. As party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin made it clear that we were not fit for Government-----

The Senator has limited time to ask his questions.

As we never received the telephone call, the negotiations were never available to us.

(Interruptions).

Unfortunately, that is what he said and as he repeated it time and again, I do not need to remind Members of it.

The substantive point I want to raise today concerns the north west - Derry, Donegal and Tyrone. I am proud to say that in a number of weeks' time, a radiotherapy unit will open in Derry that will service 500,000 people in the region. It is an example of cross-Border co-operation endorsed by the entire community - Unionist and nationalist and is funded by the two Governments. It is an example of where we need to move forward. The problem is that this region of 500,000 people has no motorway, rail or air connection to the capital city. It is totally disconnected. If you get out the map of Ireland out, you will see motorways and rail and air links to Belfast, rightly so. You will also see such links to Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. There is a complete blank spot. Will the Leader raise this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross? When we talk about Brexit and a strategy to deal with its implications, we need a commitment from the Government on co-funding the A5 project, which will come back on track in 2017, and in respect of the City of Derry Airport. The airport deals with 340,000 passengers every year, of whom 40% or roughly 150,000 are from Donegal, yet not one cent from the Government is going into that airport. We need the Minister, a former Member of this House, to come to the House and listen to the views of 500,000 Irish citizens in that region who are disconnected from their capital city and from equality in terms of the access that would be expected for citizens across this island.

I agree with Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn about those infrastructural projects. He is right that the City of Derry Airport is used by a lot of people from Donegal, as is the A5. I think a lot more work could be done. I am a little concerned about the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and Brexit.

It could have implications for funding for those vital cross-Border infrastructure projects.

Sometimes we spend our time criticising the European Union and some of its ideas. However, I have discovered an idea which I think is absolutely wonderful. It is an interesting proposal. The proposal is to offer every 18 year old the opportunity to travel throughout Europe free of charge by train for four weeks. Up to 300,000 European 18-year-olds could avail of this popular inter-rail scheme for free. It could give many young people the opportunity to travel around Europe, to explore and to become European. I believe the House should support this initiative. It will cost up to €3 billion but it will get people out of their comfort zones to travel around Europe. I certainly agree with Manfred Weber, who said: "Europe is about emotions, to see other cultures, to see other languages." People all around Europe can get to know and learn to cherish each other. It is a wonderful idea. It is something I did 30 years ago and I enjoyed every minute of it. Perhaps if I had not travelled, I might have got a normal job and enjoyed myself. We should absolutely encourage this wonderful proposal. Well done to the European Union.

I agree with Senator Ray Butler. I had an experience once. I was stationary in a line of traffic on the East Link Bridge. The driver of an articulated lorry had not seen my car because it is low slung. The lorry came and crashed into the side of it. It is on video. The people in the box saw it. I reported it. The insurance company paid €1,100 for my car to be repaired. My insurance company never went after the person. Those responsible simply left it. They ignored it. It was desperate stuff.

I was interested to hear Sinn Féin raising the question of the Bank of Ireland and the way in which the bank has bowed to pressure from the Israelis to cancel the account of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. This is absolutely appalling. Now we have the new Israeli ambassador apparently saying he cannot guarantee that the Israeli secret services will not use Irish passports in assassination attempts. I am relying on newspaper reports for this. It is horrendous and the Israeli ambassador should be called in and given a pretty severe talking to.

I propose to table a motion critical of the Bank of Ireland for doing this and hope Sinn Féin will support it. It is extraordinarily undemocratic. This bank was rescued by the taxpayers of Ireland. It is acting in this arbitrary and undemocratic manner. It is a relatively uncontroversial thing. We are not criticising the Israelis. It is up to them if they want to put pressure on - that is their right. However, for an Irish bank to accede to it is disgraceful. I call on the Leader to consider giving time, even for an hour, to pass this as a measure of protest, although I need some time to formulate the motion. By the way, I apologise in advance. I may not hear what the Leader has to say because I have to do a radio interview, but I will try to get back in time.

I agree with Senator David Norris and my colleagues in Sinn Féin on this matter. It is deplorable. It was a deplorable decision by Bank of Ireland. I am supportive of a motion being passed in the House criticising Bank of Ireland and calling on it to reverse its decision. It was wrong and there was no justification for it.

I also want to raise an interesting issue that we need to be very careful of in the coming months. It relates to Palestine. In December 2008 there was a changeover of the American President. The opportunity was used and there was extensive bombing in the Gaza area. Over 1,300 people died. We need to send a clear message to Israel that the opportunity on this occasion from 15 December to 20 January should not be used in the same way as it was last time around. The outgoing United States President was not in charge in real terms and the incoming President had not taken over. The message needs to be highlighted that it will not be a free-for-all as it was in 2008. We need to be careful of this issue. I agree with my colleagues' comments on Bank of Ireland. At one stage the account in question had only €50,000 in it. It was purely for administration. It was a wrong decision by the bank.

Tá mé ag ardú ceiste ar maidin atá thar a bheith tromchúiseach. A number of months ago a man in Ballinasloe was woken up by gardaí coming to his door. They took him out of his bed and brought him to prison in Dublin. Subsequently, when this was being challenged in the High Court, the Garda National Immigration Bureau backed out of the case. The man was subsequently deported to Brazil, where he was born. One might say that these things happen and that it is terrible, but this man was married to an Irish citizen. The grounds for his removal from the country, as I understand it, were based on misinformation given to the HSE about the status of his marriage. In recent times, the HSE has admitted that there were absolutely no grounds for the information given. Therefore, there was no reason whatsoever for his marriage not to be accepted as a proper and full legal marriage. To add insult to injury, the man is still in Brazil and the file on his case is still sitting on the desk of the Minister. His wife has had to go to Brazil to be with him. She has suffered extraordinary distress, as have her family and friends. It has affected all aspects of their lives, including the business that his wife runs. It is absolutely disgraceful that this should have been allowed to happen. It raises many questions about the procedures used by the HSE when it is given misinformation or spurious information. HSE staff acted on it against someone. They were in the wrong and did not give due process a chance.

It also raises the question of whether the Garda National Immigration Bureau and Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service followed due procedure or checked the facts. All of this happened, even though the man in no way resisted any attempts to arrest him, etc. He gave the information that was correct. It was disregarded. His wife gave the same information. Nevertheless, those responsible proceeded to deport him. I am calling on the Leader to use his office to address this matter. If the Minister could be called in to debate the issue, I would be grateful. This is an immediate issue. I call on the Leader to intervene with the Minister's office, look at the file on the Minister's desk and give this man permission to come back to his wife, job and family in Ballinasloe. He should be allowed to continue his life with his wife, as he should have been allowed to do from day one. I imagine those involved will follow up themselves on the issues that pertain to the case and the way it was handled. It is disgraceful that this should have taken place. I call on the Government to act immediately to rectify the wrong.

In the aftermath of the budget I wish to add to what I said last night on the housing grants scheme that was announced. It is a retrograde and a bad step. Some commentary has been positive but that has mainly come from the construction sector. Much of the commentary has been bad in respect of the scheme. If implemented, the scheme could lead to an extraordinary uptake of debt by individuals who wish to purchase a home. The scheme provides an incentive for people to take on debt. No Government should incentivise private individuals to take on debt by way of a scheme but that is what this scheme does.

There is no incentive for people returning home. There is a total undermining of the Central Bank position on loan-to-value ratios and savings ratios. I can only guess that this initiative serves to undermine the Central Bank and to subvert it in respect of the savings initiative. The Central Bank did one thing in the aftermath of the financial crisis to try to help people. Many people have criticised the Central Bank for the limits of 10% or 20%. However, if the State subscribes to cultivating another housing boom, we are going to be back where we were before. That is wrong. This is going to push up prices on existing stock and it is going to help developers in parts of the country that are already over-housed. For example, in my county people cannot get a mortgage. How are they going to be able to avail of the scheme? The banks are simply not lending in certain parts of the country.

The banks are only lending in areas where they know, through economic evaluations and models, they can sell on the property if the loan goes pear-shaped. Shame on the banks and, in particular, AIB, which is largely supported by the taxpayer. These are major issues which have not been addressed. This is feeding into a situation where increased lending rates internationally will cause a major crisis in the housing system again.

Following on from yesterday's Budget Statement which was positive in many respects, I want to focus on the speech by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, and his unique take on low-cost finance for farmers. It was a major step forward for the agricultural community that, through the good work of the Minister, €150 million has been made available for low-cost finance. Loans from the scheme to provide working capital for the agriculture sector will have a low interest rate of 2.95%, a positive development. We have been looking for this for a long time. We have been on about the interest rate issue and the pillar banks. In Austria, farmers can get finance with an interest rate of 2%, but in Ireland one can pay anything up to 8%. The Minister has stepped into the market, making €150 million available in low-cost finance at 2.95%. This is an important day and has the ability to put cashflow and working capital back into this industry. That is what it required. Grain and dairy farmers have been looking for working capital for the past 12 months. We have a unique opportunity with this scheme. I encourage everyone in the agriculture sector to get involved in the scheme because it has the potential to lift us out of this crisis and, I hop, put us on a footing to go forward. The agriculture industry has the ability to repay and become a major driver in the economy.

I want to raise one issue from yesterday's Budget Statement which needs to be aired again, namely, the decision to extend the 9% VAT rate for hotels. I am very much against this. I was disappointed last night to see the head of the Restaurants Association of Ireland on Twitter mocking trade unionists who legitimately campaigned for the rate to be reviewed. I know that there is a new tradition in Fine Gael of mocking trade unionists. They had a good laugh at the weekend with their guest at their nice dinner.

Michael O'Leary.

Many Senators are proud to be trade union members.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland gains hundreds of millions of euro in subsidies each year, while it refuses to engage with the Workplace Relations Commission and the joint labour committee, JLC, system, re-established by the previous Fine Gael Government. It is an organisation, with the Irish Hotels Federation, which has effectively casualised employment in the whole industry. It is not possible to have a career in the hotel industry anymore, unless one is a manager, because one will only get a casual contract. This applies across all of the best hotels.

It applies even in universities.

Last week The Irish Times reported how a trade unionist in a hotel in Sligo was sacked. She was sacked simply for being a trade unionist. This was found out in an adjudication hearing at the Workplace Relations Commission. I understand the Irish Hotels Federation is now raising a fund to appeal that decision. These organisations are completely hostile to decent working rights in the sector. It is high time we had a proper debate on this matter. Will the Leader organise one? Will he also clearly condemn the Irish Hotels Federation and the Restaurants Association of Ireland for their refusal to engage with the JLC system?

Before Senator David Norris leaves and as a courtesy to him as father of the House, I will be happy to facilitate a discussion on the issue raised by him and Senator Colm Burke.

I thank the Leader.

We spoke last week about the decision made by Bank of Ireland. It is certainly one for which it should answer. Despite some thinking we do not have a role to play in the day-to-day management of accounts, the bank should explain and, if possible, reverse this decision. I would also be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter of insurance which was also raised by Senators.

Many Senators referred to the budget. To be fair to Senator Catherine Ardagh, she has been consistent on the importance of the funding and staffing of the DEIS, delivering equality of opportunities in schools, programme and how it is maintained and retained in some cases. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, was in the Chamber last week to debate the action plan for education, at which time he demonstrated his vision for the Department. Given that the economy is beginning to recover and more people are back at work, we need to examine how DEIS status is granted in the areas in Dublin to which Senator Catherine Ardagh referred and a number in my city of Cork. I will be happy to have the Minister return to the House to debate the matter.

Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin referred to class sizes. It was announced yesterday in the Budget Statement that 2,400 extra teachers would be hired, an increase of 3.5%. There will be up to 2,500 additional posts in schools, including resource teachers and special needs assistants, as well as the return of career guidance teachers. Up to €160 million will be committed in the higher education sector. Education is pivotal in how we get the economy moving again. We must invest in it. The supports announced in the Budget Statement represent a beginning. Linked with them is the action plan for education and the new action plan for disadvantaged schools, to which Senator Catherine Ardagh referred and which the Minister will announce before the end of the year. There is also to be reform of the junior cycle programme, as well as extra career guidance posts. We are on a journey. We have haemorrhaged many staff from public services. At least we have now turned the corner in terms of investment.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, announced a comprehensive child care package, with an investment of up to €1.3 billion. Funding for early years education services has been increased by 35% to €466 million. A new affordable child care scheme will be introduced, with an increase in the Tusla budget. There is investment in children, particularly in younger years education programmes. Those who question the child care budget should look at the balanced and fair statement issued on it by the Children's Rights Alliance.

Most people who discussed the budget on the airwaves this morning spoke about the housing scheme. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill did not mention the issue of supply. Those of us who hold clinics and canvass meet people who have an issue in getting into the housing market or being able to obtain local authority housing. We need to start to incentivise the market to allow people to buy houses rather than compete against one another. However, I take the Senator's point which we may be able to address with the relevant Minister in the context of the Finance Bill. It is important that the benefit of a house purchase scheme go to the buyer, not the seller. I agree with the point made about the purchase of second-hand houses and the Central Bank's requirements regarding deposits. However, there are people who cannot put the money together and we must provide an incentive for them. There is still a home improvement scheme in place. As I said, we are on a journey, but it is equally important that we be fair and balanced in how we address the issues involved.

Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin referred to the provision of free GP care for children under 12 years. As Members know, the Government's overarching policy is to provide free GP care for children under 12 years. There are talks under way with GPs on contracts.

Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to a free dental cleaning and oral hygiene service.

It is regrettable that we have not seen any movement on the matter. As part of Mary Hanafin's regime when Minister, the option was removed. It is important that we consider the issue in future years because dental work and good oral hygiene are important.

Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the important issue of broadband provision. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to come to the House for a debate on the matter.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn referred to cross-Border health initiatives. When I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, the committee visited the North where we witnessed close co-operation. We can see that close co-operation in the link between Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry and Letterkenny General Hospital in County Donegal. We all welcome cross-Border health initiatives.

Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn also made a point about transport, infrastructural developments and projects, a matter also raised by Senator Frank Feighan. Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn mentioned the A5 road project. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to attend the House to discuss the matters raised.

Senator Frank Feighan also raised the matter of extending free travel to 18-year-olds across Europe. It is an exciting initiative that would afford students who have just left school an opportunity to travel and encourage them to explore.

Senator Colm Burke raised the important issue of what might happen after the presidential election in the United States, particularly in the context of Israeli and Palestinian conflict. It is critical that President Obama's overseas policy be continued. Senators have differing views on Israel and Palestine, but it is important to recognise that the Palestinian people should not be subjected to harassment and torture. Whoever occupies the White House has a duty and an obligation to the world.

I am not familiar with the case referred to by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. If what he has said has happened, it presents a serious issue. Therefore, he should convey the details to the Minister.

To be honest, as someone who deals with people every day, I have not seen that type of behaviour.

The case is with the Minister.

I know. I am not discrediting what the Senator said. He has highlighted a serious issue. If the Minister is the person to whom one should go about the matter, I will be happy to work with the Senator.

Senator Tim Lombard raised the issue of cashflow and working capital and referred to the assistance provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As he rightly said, that is what is required.

In response to Senator Paul Gavan, I am on record as saying the 9% VAT rate is important. We must continue to attract tourists post-Brexit. It is not about incentivising restaurants and hotels but offering an attractive package to tourists. What is of equal importance is that people who live here can afford to go to restaurants and spend their money in the local economy.

I would be disappointed if a person working in the hotel industry was sacked because of his or her membership of a trade union or for being a trade unionist. Those of us who were members of and advocates for a union or who were shop stewards and representatives who attended branch meetings recognise the importance of and need for trade unions. I hope the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation will engage with the unions involved. As it is dialogue, not a monologue, both sides should interact. The Senator is right that for some employment in the hotel industry can be transient. There have been issues, in family-run hotels in particular, but the position has changed. It is important that people be offered continuity of employment in restaurants and hotels in particular. I, therefore, actively encourage both sides to engage. As I said, I would be disappointed if someone was sacked because of his or her membership of a trade union.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.15 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.