The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on agricultural product prices and the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 6.25 p.m.
Order of Business
Today I would like to raise an issue that I have raised three times previously concerning staffing levels at the Assumption girls national school in Walkinstown. I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to address the House on this matter, as this is my third time raising it but nothing has been done.
The aforementioned school applied for developing school status earlier this year and was granted two extra classes.
Ultimately, due to the housing and homelessness crisis, it caused many families in the area to move outside of the catchment area, leaving the school short of seven pupils immediately before the return of the school term.
It is understood today that the Department of Education and Skills sent a letter to the school refusing the appeal, ultimately ensuring that a teacher will have to be let go this Friday. The school is in the very heart of Dublin 12, where we have considerable anti-social behaviour - much of the gangland crime we describe stems from this area. All of this means that children in this area will lose a teacher. It means that the classes of 90 pupils in the school will have to merge and there will be a merged fifth and sixth class. Ultimately, this means there will be three larger classes with pupil-teacher ratios of 30:1, well above the EU and Irish averages. This is in a school in the heart of one of the most disadvantaged parts of Dublin city. It would not happen in more affluent parts of Dublin city or in any other part of the country.
On this basis I am asking for the Minister for Education and Skills to address the House today, explain why the matter has not been addressed properly and to give the House some answers.
The House will be aware that the Seanad Bill has now passed Second Stage and is awaiting debate on Committee Stage. Obviously, it is a matter for the groups to determine when Committee Stage hearings should commence.
It occurs to me that perhaps we need a little more clarification from the Government, in particular, before we embark on that process. I am addressing my point to the Leader, as the spokesman of the Government in the House. As I understand it, a programme for Government was agreed which stipulated, among other things, that the report of the Manning committee would be implemented. The Taoiseach has come to the House and spoken about his commitment to this project. The Members of the other House are under the impression, as I understand it, that the Government is committed to this enterprise. Presumably, the parties that support the Government, including the Independent Alliance, Fine Gael and the other Independent Members, are committed to the forwarding of this proposal.
It seems to me, therefore, that there should be no doubt about the intentions of the Government in respect of this Bill. I was a little disturbed when I discovered recently that a Member had described this Bill as a Bill of Senators Michael McDowell, Gerard Craughwell, Victor Boyhan, Frances Black and John Dolan. That is because the Bill is supported by many other Members and it carried their signature.
Who was it? Name and shame the Member.
Can the Chair clarify the matter?
I am duty bound to remain silent.
The interesting point is that, with the exception of myself, all the people mentioned as being proposers of this Bill were elected to the House by county councillors.
They were all nominated.
The letter in which they were so categorised and loaded into the same group as myself was addressed to every county councillor in the country, as far as I can see. This raises the question of why it would be that anyone would so misrepresent the proposals of the Bill in such a way as to somehow excite opposition against them among their electorate. That raises a further question.
One should not presume anything.
God, Senator McDowell is raising a lot of questions today.
Which Member would be so inexperienced as to make a mistake of that kind?
A schoolboy error.
Why would a Member forget that many other Members have proposed this Bill? It comes down to this point.
Is the Government committed to what is in the programme for Government, the implementation of the Manning report on the reform of this House? Is the Leader having difficulty persuading some of his colleagues that they should support the Government on this issue-----
They do not.
Do we need to bring the Taoiseach in here again so that they can hear it from his own lips that he supports this Bill?
Not before Christmas.
I will not embarrass the individual who wrote this letter.
I would never do such a thing but should this House not at this point seek clarity from the Government as to where its commitment lies?
I look forward to Committee Stage of this Bill being brought forward early. The Leader should take this opportunity on the Order of Business to make it clear that the Government stands behind the programme for Government, that the Fine Gael Party is united in support of the Taoiseach on this measure and that letters of this kind really are not very helpful to the process.
He deserves it. Order in the House. I call Senator Conway-Walsh.
I am glad that cleared that up.
I refer to the report on media ownership in Ireland that my Sinn Féin colleague, Lynn Boylan, MEP, launched yesterday. The report, which examines the effect the concentration of media ownership has on the democratic process, was compiled by Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jonathan Price of Doughty Street Chambers-----
The Senator must not name people.
-----and Gavin Booth - I think the authors of this report should be commended – and Darragh Mackin of KRW Law. I acknowledge Lynn’s initiative and steadfastness in confronting the elephant in the room of Irish politics and media.
The report states: “we consider there to be a perfect storm which poses grave risks to freedom of expression and media pluralism in the Irish market”. There you have it. The control of Irish media, combined with the sustained and regular threats of legal action by one well-known billionaire to media organisations and journalists who are engaged in news gathering or reporting his activities, is a threat to Irish democracy. I, like the authors of this report, believe that imperative and urgent action needs to be taken.
I urge the Government to carry out the recommendations of the authors immediately to establish a cross-disciplinary commission of inquiry to examine the issues and make concrete recommendations within a tight timeframe. There is a fear that because the legislation as laid out is not retrospective, it has merely cemented the position of the aforementioned individual and means that no one can now come near him in terms of market control. It is my understanding that there is no legal or constitutional bar to the retrospective application of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014. This is important as it negates any claim by the Government to be powerless to act due to private property concerns. The Seanad would be an ideal forum in which to scrutinise this issue.
As there is no one here from the Civil Engagement group, I will exercise some discretion and call on the father of the House, Senator Norris.
Uncharacteristically, I have nothing to say. I find myself listening in admiration to my colleagues. I very much appreciate the Leas-Chathaoirleach’s kind sentiments.
I interpreted the Senator’s earlier interjection as meaning that he had something to say.
It is clear to everyone that the Government has no industrial relations strategy whatsoever.
Four weeks ago today, this House approved a Labour Party motion proposing to establish an employer-labour conference to address some of the massive and unprecedented industrial relations issues facing the country. Since the passage of that motion, we have had rank and file members of An Garda Síochána and members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors voting to withdraw their labour. In addition, members of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, have decided to take strike action. The Government is drowning under a tsunami of industrial relations problems and does not have a clue how to go about resolving them. Our motion was designed to assist the Government in digging itself out of a hole. What has the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation done to progress the motion we passed? Is the Government essentially ignoring the democratic decision of this House? We offered advice on a plate to the Government as to how it could be assisted in resolving some of the major industrial relations issues confronting the country. If this is new politics, I would like to see the old politics back, and quickly.
The Government is tone deaf on industrial relations and has no idea how to resolve the problems piling up on Ministers' desks. When Members advise the Government as to how it might proceed, by introducing a mechanism such as an employer-labour conference, they are apparently given the two-fingered salute. In the meantime, the problems mount up day in and day out as large numbers of public servants prepare this week to withdraw their labour. Members expect the Leader to vindicate the rights of this House and ensure the motions that come from it go through the correct process and are implemented by Government. We have yet to see any sign of that in this case. What has happened to the motion passed just four weeks ago in this Chamber? If the answer is that it cannot be implemented, what then is the point of Members passing motions, only for them to be given the two fingers?
The only silver lining surrounding the dark cloud that is Brexit is the prospect that we might attract additional inward international investment into this country. IDA Ireland acted very swiftly in sending out 1,400 invitations to companies internationally asking them to consider Ireland as a location in the context of the UK's departure from the European Union. That was a welcome initiative. I was pleased, too, to read in the newspapers at the weekend that the Taoiseach is apparently engaged in negotiations with several banks in Britain on their possible relocation here. All of that is encouraging. Will the Leader arrange a debate with the relevant Minister or Ministers to discuss how far the IDA Ireland initiative is going, the reaction it is getting, how likely we are to attract new banking and financial services operations here and, critically, whether we will be able to attract new inward investment to the Border region, which is the area most affected by Brexit? I would like to see counties like Cavan and Monaghan, which already are disadvantaged by virtue of their location on the Border, receiving preferential treatment and the support systems necessary to attract industry. I seek a debate on how we can go about grasping the only straw of hope in the Brexit scenario. We need to know what is being done to attract industry, what the response has been to efforts in that regard, how optimistic are the relevant agencies, what we can do to assist and what is the position in regard to financial services and banking. There is no more relevant or urgent debate we could have and I hope the Leader will arrange it as soon as possible.
Will the Leader consider scheduling sittings of the House next week given that we are back only four weeks? A newspaper in his native Cork pointed out yesterday that in the first three weeks we were back, we had 33 hours and 30 minutes of statements.
Much of that was on Brexit, which is being dealt with by a number of committees and in the Dáil, but we have only spent eight hours and 15 minutes in total debating legislation. The Labour Party, the Civil Engagement group and other groups have Bills on the Order Paper that could be moved next week. In light of the fact that work on so much legislation needs to be done and that very little has been done because so much time was taken up at the start of the year with the formation of a Government and we are only now in a position to do legislative work, which is what this House and the other House are designed to do, we should consider getting some legislation moving through the Houses to ensure we do our job here. On average, only 50 Bills are passed by the Dáil and the Seanad in a calendar year. By the time we get to the end of this year we will have done perhaps one third or one quarter of what should normally be done by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Much was made about the issue of scrutiny of EU legislation and directives. Under Standing Orders, there is a requirement to set up a committee on EU legislation. I ask the Leader when that committee will be established, the way it will be structured and, importantly for the Members, how it will be resourced to ensure that legislation is not simply rammed through the House. EU directives account for 90% of the laws that come into effect in this country, many of which are needed but some of which may have a detrimental effect here. They are not getting the scrutiny they should get and that is required under Standing Orders. I ask the Leader to consider the sitting of the House next week in light of the fact that since the summer, and as of this week, we are only back four weeks.
I want to raise an issue I am extremely passionate about. I encourage the Members present to engage with the facts in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, Committee Stage of which will be taken in this House tomorrow. My entry point to this issue is the impact of alcohol-related harm, which I witness every day through my work with the RISE Foundation. I really believe that, as a nation, we are in denial. Our relationship with alcohol is so twisted in our culture and psyche, it is often difficult to untangle it and see clearly. I appreciate that Members are being inundated with representations from small shopkeepers. My parents were small shopkeepers, and I understand the problems small shopkeepers have to deal with on a daily basis and the pressures they face. As I have been receiving the e-mails I have been thinking of my parents and small shopkeepers, but the reality is that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is about saving lives in the very communities in which those shops are located, such as the small rural areas we are hearing from.
I am not anti-business. I believe the proposals in the Bill are workable but, sadly, the drinks industry is twisting the reality. Why do we allow the drinks industry to dictate public policy?
I am sorry, Senator, but that matter is on the agenda and it will be debated on Committee Stage tomorrow.
I want to make it clear that I am looking forward to the debate tomorrow. I hope to have time to debate each amendment, and I ask the Leader to encourage fellow Senators to stand together and support the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill-----
-----but I want to make an important point about the drinks industry. The lobbying that has been going on, which needs to be raised here today, has been over the top.
I have seen it myself, and it is not right. I am a new Member of the Seanad and I cannot believe the power it has. I needed to make that point.
I think all sides have been busy lobbying.
I raise the matter of the relocation of the Seanad again, given the concerns expressed yesterday in the national media by academics about the planned use of the National Museum of Ireland and the associated costs. We must ask the question again. Why can we not look to the regions for an alternative site or at least explore that option? This move will continue to be highlighted in the national media.
I probably do it myself in some ways. If we cannot find accommodation in the city of Dublin, perhaps it is time to move around the country. I remember how, in 2000, the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Cabinet met at the regional assembly in Ballaghadereen. The regional assembly is still there and would be very happy to ask the Seanad to relocate to its location. If we are talking about bringing politics to the people, perhaps this is an opportunity. I know the secretariat is working extremely hard but there are turf wars here and it is bringing the reputation of the Seanad into disrepute. As Senators, we do not mind where we sit but we want to get this sorted sooner rather than later.
That matter has been dealt with so we should not be discussing it.
It will be dealt with.
It has been dealt with.
I read this in the national newspapers-----
The Senator cannot believe everything he reads.
That is good. It is nice to see that it has been dealt with.
The Senator should read the "Indo".
Senator Ó Clochartaigh should write that on his letters as well.
There is a difference between correspondence and the media.
I understand that I have the floor. I compliment the Ulster GAA county board - and everyone else involved - on the work relating to the Casement Park project in west Belfast. This is very good news. Having such a wonderful venue will undoubtedly be a huge boost to Ulster GAA and GAA followers. I wish Ulster GAA the very best and look forward to the stadium being completed by 2019.
The Leader knows that I previously raised the issue of the huge gap in infrastructure linking Dublin with Derry, Donegal, Tyrone, namely, the north-west of our island and the 500,000 people who live there. I asked the Leader to request that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the Chamber to debate the issues involved. I will outline them again. They include the failure of the Government to invest even one cent in the City of Derry Airport in recent years even though it is used by 150,000 people from Donegal - 40% of the total number of passengers who pass through the facility each year - and the failure to give real commitments with regard to funding the A5, which is a vital dual carriageway linking the north west to Dublin. Added to that are the issues raised in this Chamber, namely, the Cork-Limerick road, the gridlock on the M50 and the threat of the loss of Iarnród Éireann routes. These are all really serious issues of concern relating to transport. I have raised issues relating to the north west but I am conscious other colleagues have raised issues of concern as well. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, who is a former Senator, to come to the House to debate these matters with us.
I apologise for having indicated previously that I did not have something to say. I do have something to say and it relates to a matter I take very seriously indeed, namely, the coverage by the media of the proceedings of this House. A week or so ago, we had a very important debate about CETA on a motion sponsored by Senator Higgins. This led to a defeat for the Government on a very significant matter that is now being debated widely in Europe. It appears as if this agreement is in great difficulty for certain reasons, some of which were highlighted in this House. There was not a single whisper about the matter but when a Member of the Lower House referred to it in passing on the Order of Business, it was the subject of a half-page report in the newspapers. Last week, the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016, sponsored by Senator Mark Daly, was debated in the Seanad. This is a very important matter - one of fundamental human rights. It relates to just 5,000 people and 35,000 of their family members and friends but it is a very significant matter. This Bill was passed by the House. There was not a single word about it. I ask the Leader to contact the broadcasting unit and find out what political intelligence is brought to bear on selecting topics to be broadcast. We are sometimes dismissed as a talking shop. Of course, we are. That is what the word "parliament" means - "parlement" or" talking". It is very important because we talk on behalf of the citizens of Ireland.
We help to bring issues that are otherwise concealed before the public imagination.
No doubt, the Senator may also write.
I will leave the writing to you.
Enough of that.
It is very important that we are not frustrated in this by a lazy or temperamental intelligence guiding what is broadcast.
Would the Leader invite the Minister here to discuss water and sewage? We will not say "Irish Water", given that it seems to be gone into the history books.
We will say "Irish sewage".
In my local town, Trim, planning permission has been given for 365 new houses, which is very welcome. However, last year €1.3 million was allocated for the sewerage plant in Trim. The plant is 35 years old and is creaking. Raw sewage is leaking out of it. The water quality is not great. This €1.3 million has disappeared since Irish Water went off the playing pitch. As we move on and the economy improves, new developments and houses will be planned, and we need proper infrastructure. In my area we have the likes of Ballivor, where a hose pipe is bringing water from the reservoir to the houses. In Kildalkey and Longwood there is no water pressure whatsoever. We are in the suburbs of Dublin and this is the start of the building, which is welcome, but we need infrastructure. We are not getting forward planning. It is backwards we are going. I would like the Minister to come here and tell us the plan for water and sewerage schemes.
I ask the Leader to call in the Minister for Health. I read in this morning's edition of the Irish Examiner that four new maternity hospitals are needed across the country. Nearly on a monthly basis I have raised the shame that although we have agreement to build a new national maternity hospital at St. Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park, we have been waiting ten months for planning permission to be lodged. What we got is an internal turf war. It is no longer good enough to hear mediation is happening. We need action. The health of women and children seems to be always pushed to the bottom of the queue. If people want to have a war over who is going to control the budget or who will be members of the board, let them have it. But let us build a new national maternity hospital. The funding is agreed. There is €150 million waiting to be called down. It is frustrating to hear, over and over again, that there is no agreement.
I have raised this on the Commencement debate and on the Order of Business, and it has been highlighted by a national newspaper, the Irish Examiner. Maternity hospitals across the country are in crisis. We need four new maternity hospitals properly staffed and resourced. Although we have agreement to build one, because of a turf war we cannot even apply for planning permission. It is unacceptable and the House should not find it acceptable. We need the Minister to come here and answer questions about why it has been delayed and why 10,000 children who are born in the National Maternity Hospital every year, and 8,000 women, will be put at risk. In the other House, we are arguing about repealing the eighth amendment to the Constitution, and it is important. However, this issue is being overlooked. We need the Minister to come here and answer very clear questions on why the new national maternity hospital has not gone to planning permission and why we do not have a proper maternity service for the women and children of the country.
It is unacceptable that a turf war should delay this.
Before continuing, I welcome Dr. Ashwani Kumar, the former Minister of Law and Justice in India, to the House.
I join in the Leas-Chathaoirleach's welcome. Interestingly, a subject of debate today is that of letters being sent to councillors. I understand that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is the subject of the former Minister, Senator McDowell's comments.
Please, one should not presume anything.
One should assume nothing. I accept that.
The Senator should not make-----
Senator Leyden should not make statements like that.
I second Senator Ardagh's amendment to the Order of Business. Will the Leader arrange for Second Stage of my Registration of Wills Bill 2016, which is No. 9 on the Order Paper, to be taken next week? It would be appropriate, as the best will in the world week has just concluded. It entailed solicitors making wills for approximately €50 each. My Bill would be an opportunity to highlight this issue. It was debated by three Seanaid and was passed by two. It was on Second Stage in the previous Seanad. I pay tribute to the late Brian Lenihan for his support and assistance in that regard. If we are sitting next week, I ask that my Bill be debated.
Senator Black mentioned the intoxicating liquor Bill. The Sunday newspapers, all large stores, for example, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, SuperValu, Mace, Londis, Musgrave, and RGDATA support-----
Committee Stage will be taken tomorrow. I have already ruled on this matter.
Yes, but I just want to make a point. The Leas-Chathaoirleach probably likes a small glass of brandy sometimes.
Not necessarily, but anyway.
One can buy a bottle of-----
That is very unparliamentary.
Senator Leyden should withdraw that comment.
If the Leas-Chathaoirleach does not drink brandy, I will withdraw the comment.
I thank the Senator.
I regret that. I think that a glass of wine is more his tipple.
A bottle of brandy advertised last Sunday in the newspapers-----
The Senator's time is up.
-----cost €32. Today, the wholesale price for that bottle at a cash-and-carry is €35.
Who was the Minister who changed that?
It is drawing people in.
The Senator's time is up.
Close the Dáil bar.
A bottle of gin was €20, but costs €22.50-----
Who was the Minister who changed the groceries order?
The Senators will have to carry this on outside the House. Senator Leyden's time is up.
I am sorry, but-----
The Senator's time on the Order of Business is up.
This is a forerunner to the Bill.
Make your point quickly.
The Sunday newspapers carried six pages of advertising. All of the media is involved in the issue of below-cost selling-----
There is a conflict of interest here.
Senator Leyden can elaborate on that further tomorrow.
-----because it pays the wages of journalists and the newspapers' owners. This is a serious issue. Coming up to Christmas, customers will be drawn in-----
The Senator can make his points tomorrow.
-----through below-cost selling. Housewives will be brought in and encouraged to take a bottle of brandy, gin or vodka.
The Senator is out of order.
It is a serious issue.
Please, resume your seat.
I will be in order tomorrow when the Bill is being debated.
Yes. Resume your seat now, please.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. He was in order when he sent out the letter to councillors.
I support Senator Black's comments on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that we have a major cultural problem. I am sceptical as to the results that we will achieve through these small measures because a more fundamental shift needs to occur in terms of alcohol. I look forward to the debate.
There will be more than three hours of debate tomorrow.
I am finished.
I have ruled on the issue. This is the third time.
Tackling obesity is a matter that I have raised numerous times. Recently, I researched a UK study that revealed that, when weight loss management programmes were recommended by general practitioners, GPs, to patients, 40% of those patients lost an average of 2.3 kg, which is a significant amount of weight. Possibly as a result of our culture, GPs often struggle to raise the issue of obesity with their patients out of fear of causing offence or that a consultation will take too much time. However, they would not ignore a melanoma or tumour on a patient's face. We should not skirt around the issue of obesity.
The study showed positive results overall. Of those offered a weight management programme, 77% accepted and 40% of those lost significant amounts of weight. Such a measure is available in Ireland.
I think we should be introducing this sort of format for patients - our citizens - and their GPs. If we were to invest in tackling this at an early stage, it would reduce the vast amount of money being spent in our health services on obesity-related illnesses. I have already called for a debate in this House on obesity, particularly childhood obesity. I hope it will take place soon. I look forward to exploring this issue further then.
I had a lovely long weekend in Ballykissane, County Kerry, with neighbours and friends from my own parish of St. Matthew's in Ballymacarrett. We were there to remember a fellow man from our parish, Charles Monahan, who tragically lost his life on Good Friday 1916 as he went to meet Roger Casement, who was coming in on the Aud. I am sorry I did not see the Leas-Chathaoirleach when I was in County Kerry.
I met members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum this morning to discuss a number of cross-Border issues. They are eager to engage with the youth forum here in the South. We might be able to facilitate that kind of engagement. As the Leader can imagine, Brexit was one of the main issues in our discussion. The Northern Ireland Youth Forum has written to the Taoiseach to seek to be included in the national dialogue, or to have advocates for or representatives of the youth sector involved in that process. Numerous sectors and walks of life are represented at the youth forum. I ask the Leader to convey to the Government the message that a broad range of young people are very keen to engage with the national dialogue on this issue. I think we should do everything we can to assist them and bolster their opportunities to get involved.
As we know, the implications of and fallout from Brexit will be most acutely felt by young people in the first instance. As they grow and develop into the uncertainty and the unknown dynamics of a post-Brexit scenario, they will be affected as workers and students. Brexit will have an impact on their rights as citizens, their ability to travel and their capacity to avail of all the legislation we have been lucky to avail of up to now.
One of the young people I met this morning made a point that really struck a note with me. Senator Feighan mentioned the development of Casement Park by the Ulster council of the GAA. I know that like me, he will be eager to buy tickets to attend some matches there. A young person asked me this morning what will happen to rugby. He said he plays for and supports Ulster, but not all of Ulster is in Northern Ireland. He asked whether there will be an impact on somebody coming from Monaghan to play at Ravenhill and vice versa. I do not make that point facetiously, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
I know. The Senator is well into injury time.
I mention it as an example of the impact this is having on every fabric and aspect of people's lives and concerns, from the big economic and agricultural issues to sport, community life and business life.
I thank the Senator.
Perhaps the Leader will raise this matter with the Taoiseach. The Northern Ireland Youth Forum is anxious to engage.
I call Senator Colm Burke.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I was so nice to you at the start of my contribution.
I join Senator Humphreys in raising the extremely important issue of maternity hospitals. I fully agree that a ten-month delay in the lodging of a planning application is unreasonable. It is about time those involved resolved their differences and got on with it.
I remind the House that a 2003 report on our maternity services suggested that there should be approximately 180 consultants in this area within six or seven years, but we have between 130 and 135 at present. We have made very little progress even though the annual number of deliveries has increased from 50,000 some years ago to approximately 65,000 at present, having been over 75,000 at one stage in the interim.
People on the front line, including nurses, doctors and administrators, are facing major challenges every day because of the significant lack of staff in the maternity area. We have not done enough. We do not have the facilities. We have to wait for an unreasonable period of time when we want to build the facilities.
The development of a new children's hospital has already dragged on for almost 25 years. We should not allow the same thing to happen in the case of the maternity hospital. I agree with my colleague that the Minister should come in here to explain what the Department intends to do and when it is going to do it. When is it going to set a deadline for this matter to progress?
We need answers and we should not have wait until this time next year to get them.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for welcoming to the House Dr. Ashwani Kumar, a former Minister for justice from India and a member of the Indian Parliament who is here as my guest along with Professor Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College. It is an honour to have both of them here, particularly at a time when Trinity is welcoming many students from India and other countries worldwide.
In that context, I ask the Leader for a debate on Ireland expressing a welcome to a particular group we are currently seeing in the news, that is, the group of unaccompanied minors who are languishing in the detention centre in Calais, which today is being dismantled by the French authorities. Several hundred young people who are unaccompanied minors are being kept on-site in Calais in order to be processed, many of them to go to the UK. It would be a good sign and an important gesture of goodwill if the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Government were to express a welcome and to offer a hand of friendship to a small number, to several hundred young, unaccompanied and vulnerable asylum seekers who are currently in a legal limbo and who are not being transported elsewhere in France but who are awaiting processing in Calais. We should be offering a refuge to them in Ireland.
At a time when there is talk of the Seanad being consigned to the museum, it is unfortunate that we would hear such dated and archaic language in this House as that of "housewives" uttered by Senator Leyden earlier. It is not a comment that has any time or place in modern Irish society.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come to the House to discuss his brief in general.
I am sure the Leader will be able to arrange that.
I will start off with some fairly good news, and I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach was as pleased as I was to learn this morning that the Lonely Planet has selected the Skellig Ring as one of the top must-see regions to visit in the world in 2017. The Skellig Ring is a small offshoot of the Ring of Kerry, which gives access to Sceilig Mhichíl, Valentia Island and so on.
I was pleased to be at the launch of the Kerry county tourism strategy in Listowel last Friday where, under the aegis of the county council, the blueprint for the future development of the county was outlined. The launch was packed and those attending were all the service providers, the hoteliers, the restaurateurs and the transport providers. Why is Kerry successful in tourism? First, it is because God gave us things that he did not give everybody.
Being a Kerry man is an awesome responsibility.
That is false modesty. The Senator has the complete support of the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
Order, please. Senator O'Sullivan has the floor and he is speaking on a very important topic.
Second, we are lucky to have a corps of business people who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and work. Certainly they look for supports, to which they are entitled, but they do not have the deontas mentality. They work for themselves, to keep their staff employed and to keep their hotels open. I congratulate them. The Minister might be asked to come to the House to see if that approach could be adopted nationwide because God knows we need it.
On a less happy note, I heard the chairman of the Road Safety Authority speak in a radio interview as I was travelling to Dublin about the unfortunate increase in road fatalities. Last year was a great year in that there were a small number of deaths. However, every death is lamentable and avoidable. The chairman of the authority outlined a number of reasons for the increase in road fatalities, including additional commuting, people who live outside cities have to commute to work, students who cannot access accommodation close to their college campus have to travel to college, as well as increased economic activity. These are all the parameters, but the real reason for the increase in road fatalities, and this has been the reason for years, is speed. We are totally obsessed with the idea of drink in this country. There all the problems associated with it, and God knows I know about them, and drink driving is a scourge. There has been too much focus on one aspect and if I was asked, I would say the major cause of deaths on our roads is driving at speed. As I travel to and from this House on the N7 twice a week, on not one of the trips I have made have I not encountered examples of excessive speed, dangerous speed and reckless speed. That is only one person's anecdotal experience on a weekly basis. The Minister might be asked to come to the House to discuss these matters. I also support what An Seanadóir Mac Lochlainn said about Iarnród Éireann's infrastructure, which is another aspect of the Minister's brief.
In fact, the Minister is a little tardy. He has been in office for some time and we are still waiting for the Department to examine this. He is behind his colleagues in that regard.
Tréaslaím le Nick Henderson atá ceaptha mar phríomhfheidhmeannach ar Chomhairle Dídeanaithe na hÉireann. I congratulate Nick Henderson who has been appointed the new chief executive officer of the Irish Refugee Council. He was in the House earlier with his colleague, Maria Hennessy, to give us a briefing on the major issues surrounding the refugee crisis across the globe and the Irish response to it. The scenario they outlined shows that we are quite slow in our response. We must do a great deal more due to the scale of the crisis, so I would welcome a debate on those issues if possible.
Senator Humphreys mentioned a turf war. We are in for another turf war in Connemara if matters do not improve. There was an understanding regarding turf cutting and management plans being put in place for the blanket bogs. I understand there was a debate in the Dáil on the raised bogs issue and that there is a deal regarding 43 bogs which shall remain unnamed. For some strange reason we are not being told the names of the bogs on which a deal is being made. However, letters have been sent to turf cutters on blanket bogs in the Connemara area, who number hundreds of people, with regard to special protection areas. The turf cutters must have environmental impact statements undertaken on their bogs and make an appeal to have their lands and bogs de-designated. The issue is that the letters were sent last week and the deadline for confirming whether the turf cutters will appeal is next Friday.
I ask the Leader to intervene with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on this matter to see if an extension to the deadline can be given so people can fully assess what is being asked of them, who will pay for the environmental impact statements and why the situation has changed, given that they had an understanding that domestic turf cutters would not be affected by the changes being introduced. It is past time that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, came to the House to discuss issues relating to conservation and so forth. There was a meeting of the Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs this morning but the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, failed to turn up, which was very disconcerting for the members of the committee. The Minister should be invited to the House to discuss some of these important issues. They affect Kerry as well, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
To follow what Senator Colm Burke and other colleagues said regarding maternity services and what direction we are taking with them, I am deeply concerned by what I read in the Irish Examiner today. The direction we are taking with these services is a real concern for the population. The work rate of the people involved is fantastic. My wife and I had the privilege of using the service in the last few months and I compliment them on what they have achieved. Cork had the battle six or seven years ago of putting three maternity hospitals together. That was done. We put up a beautiful building and it is a beautiful service. It has worked out very well for the Cork region. I believe we must plan ahead for the generation that will require the service. If four hospitals are required and must be provided, we must put the infrastructure in place now. That infrastructure has two elements, the physical structure and the midwives and consultants. The lack of midwives is an issue and it is one I hear voiced daily. It is one of the key issues the Minister must come to the Chamber to discuss. We must plan a generational service for the future so we can provide what is required in a very important service for the women of this State.
Like other speakers, I am very disheartened. Every week, I and other Senators invite Ministers to the House. The Minister arrives and reads from a script. We are given a sheet of paper which states that they will revert to Senators with further information. This is unacceptable. I will mention four cases I have raised in the past six months but have received no answer. I will insist that we establish a new system in the House because what is happening is unfair. I raised the respite issue. The respite service in Carlow closed a year ago and I was told by the Minister that there was a place and I would be informed. It is now almost a year since then and I have followed it up repeatedly, but have received no answer. I raised the Holy Angels Day Care Centre with the Minister. It was given a small bit of funding because it is in prefabs.
Children have been in prefabs for ten years awaiting a new school. They were guaranteed a new school last year but now the Minister has said he will get back to me on that.
I am really annoyed about the ambulance service. The Minister of State at the Department of Health was in the House last week to respond to a commencement matter on the ambulance service in Carlow. There was an audit done on the ambulance base prefab and it was found to be unfit for purpose. The ambulance drivers have no hot water and there is a massive sewage problem. I was told in the reply that the Department was looking into this but I got no timescale as to when the necessary work will be done. I have phoned both the HSE and the Department of Health. I am going back to people in the constituency and telling them that while I am raising these matters with Ministers, I am not getting any answers. I am delighted that Ministers and Ministers of State are coming into the House but they must give us answers. No answers are forthcoming. I raised the issue of local authority funding for County Carlow months ago but I am still waiting for an answer. I am ringing the Department time and time again and that is unacceptable.
I am now asking whether the entire system should be changed. How many times have Senators asked that Ministers would come to this House?
The Senator should put down a motion of no confidence in the Government.
We need to get answers. I am very disheartened. As a first-time Senator, I can approach a Minister and outline the issues in my area that require attention or funding. I have been a councillor for 20 years and I understand that one must wait, that there are protocols in place and everything cannot be done overnight but there has been no respite service for children in Carlow for more than a year since the closure of Tír na nÓg, which is totally unacceptable.
I am very unhappy and will take this further. I will seek an overhaul of the entire process because it is unacceptable.
A number of months ago I raised in a Commencement debate the matter of Our Lady's Hospital, Cashel, on which €12.5 million was spent. Following the improvement works, rooms and beds at the hospital were lying vacant. I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, on visiting the hospital in Cashel yesterday, as well as the hospital in Clonmel. The Minister saw for himself the problems on the ground. I also commend him on his comments on local radio this morning when he said he will make the decisions on how the services will be used. It is quite obvious that the vacant beds in Cashel need to be used for step-down purposes and the Minister has indicated this will be the case. Consequently, unlike the last speaker who was very frustrated - as am I on certain issues - I am pleased to say that on this issue, the Minister has closed the circle. He has visited Tipperary and has given a commitment. He also gave a commitment with regard to the capital budget for 2017. I have now said all of the nice things I am going to say today.
The second issue I want to raise relates to Iarnród Éireann, which yesterday leaked a report on the railway lines across the country. On the front of The Irish Times yesterday, my home town of Carrick-on-Suir was billed as the town that used rail services the least. The report did not dig down deep enough to tell the people who read the newspaper, many of whom contacted me yesterday, that if one goes to the railway station in Carrick-on-Suir, it is quite possible the train one is waiting for will not turn up. It is also quite possible that if one is on a train that should stop at Carrick-on-Suir, it will not do so. Furthermore, it is quite possible that if one goes to Waterford to get the train to Carrick-on-Suir, one will be told one must get a bus and that there is no train running.
That is a very suitable item for a Commencement debate.
It is quite obvious that Iarnród Éireann is trying to close the railway line between Waterford and Limerick Junction by stealth. I am calling for a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, on this issue.
Finally, I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will join me-----
Senators are normally only allowed to raise one item.
This is a very serious matter. I would like to pay my respects to the family of former Senator Noel Coonan on the death of his wife, Pauline, a former councillor, who passed away after a long illness. I am sure the House will join me in offering sincere condolences to the Coonan family.
Thank you, indeed.
I wish to raise the issue of the withdrawal of Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, members from supervision and substitution duties. Effectively, what this means is that the vast majority of voluntary secondary schools in the country will not be able to continue to operate after the mid-term break, which ends on 7 November. The vast majority of the voluntary secondary schools will not re-open after the mid-term break, meaning there are only two days of scheduled teaching left. The impasse regarding supervision and substitution has not been dealt with by the Minister for Education and Skills. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss this. We know that the strike issue is currently being dealt with.
It needs to be dealt with urgently. Although the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland will not be on strike for many days after the seven scheduled days, it will be effectively closing schools or forcing boards of management to make the decision to close schools, because there will be insufficient staff available to cover the supervision required before school, during break times, after school, in schoolyards and so on.
The vast majority of principals and deputy principals in voluntary secondary schools are members of the union. There is no derogation for those principals and deputy principals to administer the scheme or for any replacement people to do so either. Those involved have not been told to co-operate with other people. Even if others were brought in, they would need Garda vetting. That Garda vetting takes several weeks. Even if we could find such people and bring them in, they would need to familiarise themselves with the school. If that is not possible - and it is not - then no board of management will be in a position to open a school because it does not have the required level of supervision and substitution. I know this because I am chairman of the board of management of a school.
More than half of the secondary schools in the country will not reopen after the mid-term break unless the issue of supervision and substitution is addressed.
This is urgent. It is putting extraordinary pressure on pupils in these schools. They are not going to get the education they thought they were going to get. They are now in competition with people who are in non-ASTI schools or schools which are able to stay open - principally, the education and training board schools. In other words, different pupils are getting different levels of education but all are doing the same examination. It is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with urgently.
I hope the Leader will be able to clarify the position on grants for sporting organisations and National Lottery funded grants to sporting organisations. I note that before the last general election a grant of €50,000 was promised for the development of Cusack Park and Westmeath GAA. However, since the fall of the last Government and the subsequent formation of the current Government, that promise seems to have dried up.
As Members are aware, the sports capital grant had ceased. Following the budget we have heard from the Minister of State with responsibility for sports that the scheme will be opened again and that there will be more money for sport grants. I am seeking clarification on some of the other project that had been promised but then put on the long finger. Will they be looked at again? If the Leader has some information on that matter, I would appreciate it.
I want to raise two issues. Senator O'Sullivan spoke about Kerry. If we could get the Wild Atlantic Way extended to Limerick, I have no doubt we would be on a level playing field with Kerry.
The issue I want to raise relates to Irish Rail. As a frequent user of Irish Rail I welcome the fact that there will be a public consultation on the service. I have raised this issue before. If we want to encourage the public to use public transport, in particular, rail transport, then we must have two things. In the modern world, we must have proper mobile coverage and proper broadband coverage. Irish Rail provides neither. We want to encourage business people to use what is an excellent service. The service includes online facilities and the trains are frequent and on time. However, we live in the modern world. If people are on trains and their mobile calls drop every few yards or their broadband coverage is such that they lose something, then they will become reluctant to travel by Irish Rail. Two infrastructural questions need to be examined. Why is mobile coverage so poor throughout the Irish Rail service? Why is broadband coverage so poor? If remedies to these problems were put in place, we could encourage more people to use the rail service and we might not continue to have these discussions.
I have no wish for any deterioration. We lost much of our rail network perhaps 50 years ago. I believe the service has to be developed in a way that encourages people to use it. These are two key issues. I will keep hammering on about them. The issues are broadband coverage and mobile coverage. They are atrocious in the Irish Rail service at the amount. In the modern world, these services need to be corrected and dealt with immediately.
I am seeking clarification on the repeal of the eighth amendment.
The Government said today that the Citizens' Assembly will report to an Oireachtas committee and that the Oireachtas committee will be set up by the Business Committee of the Dáil. Is there any representation from the Seanad on the Business Committee or do we have any say in that? Does it mean that the Business Committee sets the whole agenda for both Houses? Where do we stand in respect of the Business Committee?
The Business Committee does not set the business in the Dáil either.
The Leader will respond in due course.
I extend the sympathies of the House to the former Senator and Deputy, Noel Coonan, on the very sad death of his wife, Pauline. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting Pauline recognised her as a very warm, loving, caring, strong and powerful woman. We send our deepest sympathies to Noel and the family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Now for a happier announcement, I welcome Senator Ardagh back to the House and congratulate her and her husband, Darragh, on their nuptials. I was hoping the honeymoon feeling would still be here today but the Senator is back to work.
Normal service has resumed.
I wish her and Darragh every success and many years of happiness together. The Minister for Education and Skills is happy to meet with her at 5.30 p.m. rather than coming into the House if that is acceptable to her. He is deeply conscious of the issue she has raised. I have raised the matter with the Department on her behalf. I know that a letter was sent to the school sometime in October.
May I address that matter for two seconds when the Leader is finished?
If that is in order with the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
If the Minister is dealing with the matter-----
I would rather not divide the House because to be fair to the Senator there are means of having the Minister come to the House.
The Leader can inform the House at that stage.
I understand the importance of the issue the Senator raised and I have been endeavouring to bring the Minister in to talk to the Senator and he is willing to meet her and talk to her about the matter. Rather than bring him into the House I hope that the Senator would accept the bona fides of the Minister this afternoon. It is a very important issue.
That is fine when the Leader is finished.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of Seanad reform. Not being party to the correspondence he refers to I am in a vacuum. If he would be happy to share with me the piece of correspondence I would be happy to peruse it and give him a more detailed response.
As far as I know the Government position on the Manning report has not changed since the Taoiseach was last here. Whatever some Members of the House might think, write or say, as the Senator knows, all politics is local and in the event that in the next Seanad election the Manning report has not been implemented and there is no change, I am sure the particular Senator is keeping those who voted for him very happy. I am presuming it is a "he". I might be wrong on that.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of media ownership. We are lucky to have very independent media. I would be happy to have a discussion in due course regarding media ownership and so on.
Senator Nash raised the issue of the industrial relations strategy. While it is important to acknowledge that there is a very strong mechanism in the State to deal with industrial relations, as the Senator, a former Minister of State, knows, I do not accept his narrative that this Government has no interest, relationship or strength in respect of industrial relations. In fact the opposite is the case.
It is important that the discussions taking place now between the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, and the Department of Education and Skills and with the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA, continue and that they end in a resolution that is not just favourable but can be worked upon in the future.
Everything the Government is doing concerns equality. As a former Minister of State, the Senator knows quite well that the Government he was part of made decisions that would never have been made in any normal situation. Now that the Government and the country are beginning to turn the economy around towards the future, new pay entrants will receive better pay. There is a commitment to pay restoration. It is important that we honour the Lansdowne Road agreement and give the new public service pay commission time to be established but equally that there is dialogue and ongoing discussion of the matters at hand. I will not continue a dialogue in this Chamber today which is best conducted by those in discussions at the moment. It behoves everybody to become involved, to speak and to reach a resolution of the matter.
Senator O'Reilly referred to Brexit, about which we have had an ongoing series of debates in the House. It is important that we seek to benefit from the departure of the UK from the Union.
Senator Mark Daly referred to the sitting times of the House. In the coming weeks, a number of Bills will come before us for consideration. I made the point last week that new politics, whatever the particular arrangements might be, has involved a focus on pre-legislative scrutiny. Senators who were Ministers and Chairmen of committees in the previous Dáil know the system has changed. Legislation is slowing down in its formulation and in coming before both Houses of the Oireachtas. As I said, however, a series of legislative items are due to come before us in the coming weeks. As Leader of the House, the decision I make as to whether we should sit next week will not be based on populism, unlike the actions of those Members of the Dáil today who undermined the Business Committee which they were party to setting up. As Senator Norris rightly said, we are the people's House and it is proper that we have debates and statements. Parliament, as the Senator observed, is about discussion and debate. I appeal to all Members not to undermine this House or give the media further notice to write whatever they want. Senator Norris noted that they will pick and choose what they want to report, as is their prerogative. If we have legislation to debate or statements to discuss, we will be here to do it. The legislative programme is not blank and it behoves us all to ensure we see legislation enacted and issues debated. I have asked the Government Chief Whip to initiate legislation in the Seanad. In the weeks ahead we will see a series of Seanad Bills coming to the House.
Senator Black referred to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, Committee Stage of which will be taken tomorrow. One of the positive initiatives taken by the previous Government was the establishment of a register of lobbying which requires lobbyists to record who they have met and spoken to.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the relocation of the Seanad. We discussed that last week and I do not propose to go into it again. There is a process under way, as the Senator knows. It is important to put the matter in context. It is not just about the 60 Members of the House but also the Seanad staff, the staff who record and transmit proceedings and other staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is not a question of 60 people decanting to Letterkenny, Roscommon, Cork or anywhere else. It is a much wider issue than that.
Senator Norris spoke about media reporting of the proceedings of the House. Following a contribution by the Senator on the Order of Business some weeks ago, I raised the matter with the relevant person in RTE. It is up to us to give the copy to RTE, in the case of "Oireachtas Report", and to the print media.
Regarding the issue raised by Senator Butler, I will be happy to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to come to the House to discuss it.
Senators Humphreys, Colm Burke and Lombard raised the important issue of the redevelopment of the National Maternity Hospital. It is illogical that we do not have a decision lodged in that regard through the planning process. The Government is committed to the relocation of the hospital. The national maternity strategy drawn up by the previous Government was the first such strategy published. It is vital that we have a coherent strategy around the relocation. The time for talking is over and it is time now for action. As Senator Burke noted, the birth rate is rising and there are deficits in terms of the number of consultants in the maternity service. The national maternity strategy must be implemented and, more urgently, a construction date must be set and commenced for the National Maternity Hospital. I will be happy to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss that. This is about the lives of women and newborn babies, including those infants who require urgent care.
Senator Leyden raised issues relating to the sale of alcohol, which we will discuss tomorrow. I remind the Senator that it was the leader of his party who, as Minister, introduced the groceries order and thereby changed the way in which alcohol could be priced and sold in supermarkets.
Senator Noone spoke about alcohol and obesity. I will be happy to bring the Minister for Health to the House to discuss that issue.
Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. If he gives me the details, I will bring them to the attention of the Department of the Taoiseach. It is important that we hear all perspectives around Brexit, particularly the North-South aspect. Young people have a role to play in that regard.
The Senator also raised the issue of the new stadium in Casement Park, as did Senator Feighan. I wish the Ulster council well in that regard.
In response to Senator Bacik, and I should have welcomed Dr. Kumar, the Minister for Justice and Equality is willing to come to the House to discuss the issue of unaccompanied minors.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised a number of important issues, the first being road safety and the number of fatalities. The Senator is right. One death is lamentable. I join him in requesting the Minister to come to the House.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of transport. The Senator will be glad to hear that the Minister, Deputy Ross, will come to the House on 16 November for a debate on transport. However, it is important that all Members of this House would play their part, with the Garda and the Road Safety Authority, in trying to reduce the number of fatalities as a result of car crashes on our motorways and roads. As we approach the bank holiday weekend, I appeal, as Leader of the House, to all those who will be driving over the weekend not to engage in drink driving because, as we saw this week, it is tragic when we see the way an accident can result in young people in particular losing their lives. It is important that we highlight that matter.
I commend Senator Ned O'Sullivan and the people of Kerry. Kerry is called beauty's home for a reason. It is a beautiful county. The Senator may have false modesty around it but Kerry has a brilliant tourism product, as we have in west Cork, to sell to the people. I commend the Senator on the Lonely Planet guide introduction. Kerry is following Cork city in being included in the Lonely Planet guide. The most important point he made about tourism is that there is a group of people in Kerry who are dedicated to working hard, promoting the county and creating jobs. They are to be commended on that. Other counties could learn from them in that regard.
I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh in congratulating Mr. Nick Henderson on being appointed to the Irish Refugee Council. The Minister is committed to coming to the House to discuss the particular matter he raised about refugees. We cannot but be moved by the images on our television to do with the camp in Calais and other parts of the world, in particular Aleppo in Syria. I commend our Naval Service again which this week saved the lives of many people in the Mediterranean.
Senator Murnane-O'Connor raised the issue of Ministers coming to the House. I fully concur with the Senator. As a Member of the House she deserves to be given answers. She should have been here when her party was in government because it was a lot different from what it is now, but she is right. As a Member of the House she should get a progress report on what is happening in respect of the issues she raises. If the Senator wishes to liaise with me later, I would be happy to take up those issues. I cannot answer for the Ministers, but as a public representative, it is frustrating that Ministers do not reply. That has been going on since the State was founded but the point the Senator makes is a valid one.
Senator Landy raised the issue of Our Lady's Hospital in Cashel. I join the Senator in congratulating the Minister, Deputy Harris, who visited the hospital yesterday.
Senator Landy and Senator O'Donnell raised the issue of Irish Rail. The Minister, Deputy Ross, will be in the House on 16 November to discuss that issue.
Senator Horkan raised an issue regarding education. The Senator is right. There are two parts to this issue, and as a former teacher I believe it is one that must be resolved. The ASTI members will benefit from being involved in the Lansdowne Road agreement. I appeal to the members of the ASTI to consider the benefits of voting for the Lansdowne Road agreement from which they will see pay restoration, but it is a contentious issue and I hope it will be resolved.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of the sports capital programme. As far as I know, under the previous round, and there were three in the previous Government's term of office, sports capital programme commitments are to be honoured. If the Senator has an issue regarding Cusack Park in Westmeath, I would be happy to have that matter resolved for him, but as far as I am aware, once the organisation meets the criteria and the money is allocated, it can draw down the funding on a tiered basis.
Senator O'Donnell made a point about Wi-Fi and mobile telephone coverage. Many Senators have raised the issue of mobile telephone coverage, not just on trains but in general. It is an issue to which we should return.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the Citizens' Assembly. My understanding is that the Citizens' Assembly will report back to the Houses of the Oireachtas which will then go before a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I take the Senator's point that there is no Member of this House sitting on the Business Committee but my office is represented on the legislative committee which discusses legislation.
It is important that Members of both Houses are on the committee dealing with the report of the Citizens' Assembly and that it is reported back here.
Likewise, I hope that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin could provide an update to the Whips about whether they are opposing membership of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare by Members of this House. I certainly hope they have spoken about this issue to their respective party leaderships and that Members of this House will be on that committee because there are people from both parties, this side of the House and the Labour Party, as well as Independents, who have a huge amount of expertise in the area of health. That the leaders of Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin would prevent Members of this House from being on that committee would send the wrong signal. It would be a regressive move.
The information provided to the Dáil last week was that this was the case. I am only giving Members what I have been told. There was to be a vote in the House last week and the vote was pulled on the basis that it would not be carried. I hope that Members would reflect upon that.
In respect of Senator Ardagh's amendment to the Order of Business, I do not want to divide the House. The Minister is willing to meet Senator Ardagh. I understand the importance of the issue she raised but I hope she will not divide the House. The Minister will meet her. There are other means of bringing the Minister in and I would be happy to talk to Senator Ardagh about that afterwards if that is okay.
I am obliged to the Leader for conveying that message to the Minister who has agreed to meet me today. I will formally withdraw the proposal to amend the Order of Business today. However, this is not just a local issue. It is a national issue. Dublin 12 and its hinterland is a part of Dublin that is seriously disadvantaged and that is used very often as a dumping ground, not only for education but for housing. We have seen modular housing in this area where residents do not want it. I would like to note that you cannot use Dublin 12 as a dumping ground.
I cannot allow Senator Ardagh to discuss it further.