The Order of Business is No. 1, Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m., with the contributions of groups' spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
I wish to raise the issue of the way Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 are continually used as dumping grounds for this city's anti-social behaviour and social problems. Earlier in the week, I raised the issue of the lack of education provision in respect of a school in Walkinstown and today I wish to refer to plans to locate another homeless hostel in Dublin 8. To date, there are 12 homeless accommodation units in Dublin 8, compared with only two in Dublin 4. This particular proposal relates to the former St. Nicholas of Myra community centre in the heart of the Liberties. It is planned to convert the latter into a 65-bed hostel for the homeless. In the aftermath of this news, residents in the Liberties plan to protest at 6 o'clock this evening. To date, there are over 600 homeless and addiction services in Dublin 8 and the residents are seriously concerned about such a large concentration in this area in a very densely populated part of the city. This former community centre closed a few years ago due to a lack of funding but there was also the hope that it would be reopened, especially in light of anti-social behaviour in the city and a lack of green space and community space. It is frightening to think that the Dublin City Council thinks it is acceptable to locate another homeless hostel in this part of this city.
Another example of how the constituency of Dublin South Central is used as a dumping ground relates to the 29 modular homes proposed to be built on the Curlew Road site in Drimnagh. This is a one-acre site. I ask Senators to imagine 100 people living together there in the 29 modular homes it is proposed to build without this resulting in an increase in the incidences of anti-social behaviour and social problems in the part of the city to which I refer. Dublin South Central has one of the smallest number of green areas in the city. Most recently, there has been a campaign for the provision of a full size sports pitch in the Liberties area. There is no such facility there and young people who want to play sports have to travel outside the area to play a decent football or Gaelic match This is wrong. The Government needs to do something to give back to young people living there and to give back to the area because it cannot continue to be a dumping ground for anti-social problems in this city. It is not fair.
I wish to raise three items but prior to that I want to comment on the concerns expressed by Senator Ardagh. I hear what she is saying but local government is in place. If local government is not effective in addressing those issues, then this House and the Dáil need to take an interest because this is an issue for local government. If the local council, on which the Senator's party is well represented, is not addressing this issue of concern, then the matter needs to be examined. I do not necessarily think that we can resolve it in the House. That is just a comment. I did not know that the Senator planned to raise that issue and, to be fair and helpful, we need to empower councillors to deliver on the ground for local communities. The Senator is correct to state that and I share many of her concerns.
I will move on to the three issues I wish to raise. There was a current affairs programme shown after the news bulletin on TV3 last night. I do not know if any other Senators saw it but it addressed the issue of the Parole Board and the need for it to be independent. The board is not independent. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Government at some point and ask if there is an intention for the Parole Board to be truly independent. I know my colleague and Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, drafted the heads of legislation in respect of this matter and Fine Gael indicated last year that it would not oppose it. The Leader might consider that.
I ask the Leader to also consider the issue of appointing a planning regulator. There is a Government commitment to bring in a fully independent planning regulator who would be totally independent of An Bord Pleanála, and who would regulate, police and govern planning in this country, particularly in respect of how it is being rolled out and in light of the urgency of the roll-out of critical infrastructure. There is a real need for a planning regulator. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government at which representatives from An Bord Pleanála appeared. When this issue was raised with them, they said they will have no role in respect of a planning regulator and would actually fall under the remit of the office thereof. The Leader might examine this matter in the context of the legislation and the programme for Government and revert to us on it.
I wish to speak briefly about the regional ports policy. After the performance of the Minister, Deputy Ross, yesterday, I am more perplexed than ever. This matter relates to the regional ports at Drogheda, Waterford, Galway and Dún Laoghaire. Responsibility for the port in Wicklow has been transferred to the relevant local authority. Clearly, the Minister was not able to give any reassurances regarding these matters. I was dumbfounded by the response he read into the record of the House yesterday. Clearly, we need the Minister to return and tell us what is the Government's policy on regional ports and how that will impact on both local authority members and the future corporate governance of these ports.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 8, Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016 – First Stage, be taken before No. 1.
I formally second the Senator Grace O'Sullivan's proposed amendment.
Once again, the Labour Party is calling on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come before this House. Many secondary schools across the State are closed today. I am surprised it has taken until I have risen to my feet for this matter to be raised in the Chamber. We are facing unprecedented industrial relations chaos.
It is affecting students, teachers, parents and families, and I have not yet spoken about gardaí. This dispute is being mishandled and now we have the suggestion that teachers engaged in this industrial dispute will be taken off the payroll. The Minister for Education and Skills and the Government have managed to make a bad situation worse.
Over the past few days Senator Nash, Senator Humphreys and I have called for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come into the House to lay out his plans for the public sector pay commission he proposes will meet between now and next summer, and to detail his vision in that regard. Our vision is that the negotiations on a second Lansdowne Road agreement should begin immediately. That would take the tension out of these disputes, allow people to understand there is a process in place, and assure public servants that this Government has some level of respect for them. It appears to me that the Government is showing zero level of respect for public sector unions and a lack of understanding of the way public sector unions or the public sector works. In the short period of time it has been in government, it has managed to allow two industrial disputes spiral almost out of control whereas in the past five years we had relative industrial peace. Once again, for the third day in a row, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to the House to discuss with us how best to proceed because my fear, and that of my party, is that this Government does not have a cat's clue how to deal with industrial relations, does not understand the public service or public service unions and will continue to make a bad situation worse.
I welcome the news emerging that a deal seems to have been reached with the Wallonian Government and the European Commission on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. We had a lively debate on that in the House, and it has proved that future trade deals need to be debated more often in regional and national parliaments.
Like Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, I want to raise a number of issues in the educational sphere. I am well aware of the industrial action taking place today; I drove past five pickets on my way here. However, the issues I want to raise are specific to a number of schools and proposed schools in south Dublin. Last week, we learned of the disappointing closure of Notre Dame School after almost 60 years. It is a girls' primary and secondary school which has famous past pupils such as Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the future plans for this school and the accommodation plans for current teachers and pupils. This is a huge issue for the large community around Churchtown.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to allow us discuss issues relating to the delay in establishing full-time permanent accommodation both for Ballinteer Educate Together national school and Stepaside Educate Together secondary school, which are experiencing delays in gaining an access point for an agreed site and, in terms of the latter, securing a site. I would appreciate it if we could have that debate as soon as possible.
I again bring to the attention of the House the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the strategic investment fund equity holding in tobacco companies. Last week in the House, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, confirmed to me that the NTMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, have equity holdings in three separate tobacco companies. I acknowledge that all of us want to see the NTMA generate a significant income for the taxpayer through prudent and strategic investments, and I understand the ISIF has a mandate to make investments on a commercial basis. However, I ask that the interests in tobacco companies be brought to an end given that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in this country, accounting for 6,000 deaths per year, and that there are 31,000 admissions, costing €5,400 per admission, as a result of direct cigarette-related illnesses.
I have written to both the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, asking them to pursue the divestment of those legacy investments. If that approach is not sufficiently strong, I will raise this matter with other Oireachtas colleagues, including each Senator here, with a view to seeking to include the publication of draft legislation, which would make such investments illegal.
A target date was set by Senator Reilly when he was Minister for Health for Ireland to be tobacco free by 2025. It is an ambitious target but one which could be achieved readily by the commitment that taxpayers' money will no longer feature in investments in tobacco giants. It is wholly hypocritical that this country is attempting to be tobacco free by 2025 yet tobacco companies do not feature on the excluded investment categories of the NTMA. It is also hypocritical that these same tobacco companies are suing the State and issued proceedings against the then Minister, Senator Reilly. That should be brought to an end as a matter of priority.
D'ardaigh mé ceist inné maidir le cúrsaí portaigh i gConamara. I raised an issue with the Leader about a deadline pending on Friday. It concerns the blanket bog complex in Connemara. Local turf cutters who want to appeal the designations being imposed are facing a deadline of 28 October. We have asked for an extension. I do not know if the Leader was in a position to contact the Minister's office to ask for that extension but I would be grateful if he would do that today or indicate to me later if that is amenable. I do not believe it is a huge issue for them and if they could do it, it would give people more time to get their applications ready.
I want to note my concern about the teachers' strike that started today and what would appear to be a lack of engagement and a plan in terms of what will happen after the mid-term break. It is incumbent on all sides to get around the table and try to solve this dispute in as amicable a way as possible. If this Seanad is needed to have a debate on that matter, I would not be opposed to it sitting next week to debate it because it is a very serious issue affecting schools across the country.
I have raised previously the issue of hospital services in Galway, particularly those in University Hospital Galway, which is overcrowded. It has major issues in the accident and emergency department, as has been seen. The then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Taoiseach have visited the hospital. Everybody is telling us it is a basket case and that something needs to be done, but nothing appears to be happening. Discussions have started. Senior clinicians have said we need to consider building a new purpose-built hospital, possibly on the grounds of Merlin Park hospital, in Galway. I would like to know whether the Minister for Health has plans to even consider that. Is anybody in the Department looking at that as an option? I am not saying it should come out and say it will build a new hospital but some form of a feasibility study should be done because by its location, the hospital adds to the traffic chaos in the city. There are very long waiting lists in outpatient and inpatient clinics. Many people cannot access step-down facilities to take pressure off the hospital. I appreciate that primary care centres need to be rolled out and fully staffed to take pressure off the hospital, but even after that happens there are senior clinicians within the Saolta hospital group who state there will be a need for a new hospital. That the Department of Health is not even looking at this issue is not acceptable and I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to debate it.
I want to raise an issue of great concern to all of us, namely, rural post offices, which play a vital role in their communities-----
-----as they are an important contact point for people, apart from the services they provide. As social welfare payments move to be partially online, it continues to put pressure on front-line smaller post offices, as 30% of their revenue is directly generated from providing local and direct social welfare payment services. An Post employs 3,700 people nationwide. I know the importance of those jobs and services to the country. With over 40 post offices in County Kerry alone providing essential services to the people of the south west, this network is a national asset. The local knowledge and interaction with rural communities must be protected. Being a national asset, rural post offices have the capacity to provide much more than a social welfare payment system. Both of the working groups focused on the network have proven that its potential is recognised. Its preservation as the cornerstone of our society is of the utmost concern to all of us.
The direct provision of Government services document, The State at your Door, was encouraged by the Grant Thornton report. I fully support the suggestion by the working group led by Bobby Kerr for a pilot scheme to be set up as soon as possible to initiate a motor tax renewal service throughout the country. It has been suggested that it would save €60 million for the State. It is a natural conclusion to provide these Government services with such a trusted and widespread institution as An Post.
I understand that frustration has been expressed by the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, at the delay in providing this scheme. I call on the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to push for its implementation by the end of the year. I heartily agree with the views of the IPU, and a number of postmasters in Kerry have expressed the same view to me. If we are to preserve the post office network in rural Ireland then we can no longer sit on these reports. I suggest that the Leader invites the Minister to the House in early course to outline her views on progressing the recommendations of the reports and how she intends to implement them nationwide.
Apart from the suggestions already referred to, a limited banking service could also be provided by postmasters. These people are there to serve and they want to continue to do so. Instead, they are being harassed and limited in their work. I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister as soon as possible.
I am from an average provincial town with a population of just under 30,000. Over the past ten years we have seen the decentralisation policy shelved, with an estimated 200 jobs lost to Mullingar. Our hospitals are under constant threat, we have a shadow and under-resourced Garda force and we have had bank and post office closures and the removal of State veterinary services. The list goes on and on. Deputy Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has responsibility for Irish Rail and this gives rise to serious concerns. The Minister has instigated a review of rail services. His Department provides €308 million in funding to Irish Rail every year but must find a further €642 million to prevent the company from becoming insolvent. The answer that the Minister has come up with to solve this enormous problem is public consultation. He maintains that public consultation is the way forward.
Rubbish. I mean that the Minister's consultation is rubbish.
Senator Davitt, without interruption, please.
It is just as well that Senator Norris clarified that.
As Senator Coghlan will know, when one goes home on the train every Friday evening-----
I drive home.
The Minister has guaranteed that there will be public consultation before there are any rail line closures. The Minister is now being served notice and should take heed. Mullingar says "No more closures".
Eight months ago a young Gael from outside Belfast, Mr. Odhrán McKenna, was involved in a very serious road traffic collision. He was taken to hospital following the swift action of paramedics who were close to the scene of the accident. His family was told to prepare for the worst, due to the severity of the brain injuries that Odhrán had sustained.
The GAA family in Antrim, particularly St. John's GAA club, of which Odhrán was a member, mobilised as did GAA clubs throughout the county, the country and the world, to show love, support and solidarity to Odhrán, his twin brother CJ, his other brother Peter, his parents and his team mates. Eight days after the accident, Odhrán was sitting up and talking to his family. He has made a miraculous recovery. He has met and enjoyed the company of some GAA legends who were very keen to meet him, a real hero.
I had the privilege of hosting Odhrán in Belfast City Hall with the then Lord Mayor, Mr. Arder Carson. Last night Odhrán and his twin brother won the Mageean Cup with St. Mary's CBS in Belfast. I know that on the Order of Business we are expected to raise issues with Ministers and so forth but I just wanted the House to know about Odhrán, to hear his story and to reflect on the fantastic community we have in the GAA family. They have really mobilised around Odhrán and his clan.
I also want to commend the health care professionals who looked after, cared for and supported him on his journey to recovery. When we raise issues such as industrial disputes in the health sector and so forth, it is because we want the best deal possible in order to protect front-line services.
I wish to raise an issue that has been brought to my attention in recent days. It is not a question of the closure of bank branches but the fact that there will be no tellers in a number of Bank of Ireland branches in different areas from now on. A lot of vulnerable people who are not used to dealing with bank cards and who have dealt with bank tellers all of their lives are now being told that there will be nobody in the branches. There will only be a machine, into which they must stick their card.
I spoke to an older lady yesterday who told me that the nearest post office is two miles away from her home and it would cost €10 in a taxi to get to the nearest bank with a teller. She is afraid to stick her card into the ATM. This is something that is frightening older people. Smaller bank branches are closing down and only the larger banks are being kept open. This is an issue that will affect people all over the country and I ask the Leader to organise a debate on it in the near future.
I would also like to raise the issue of the ASTI dispute and the disappointing fact that over 500 of our schools remain closed this morning. This is very disappointing and I am sure it is very stressful for the students involved, particularly those who will sit exams shortly, and their parents. It is very disappointing that it has come to this and I would appeal to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to redouble his efforts to engage with the ASTI with a view to finding a resolution to this dispute. Ultimately, this dispute will be resolved and I appeal to both sides to put their heads together and try to find a solution. I welcome some media reports today suggesting that progress is being made with An Garda Síochána and I hope it will not be long before the media is also reporting progress with regard to the ASTI so that students can get on with their lives.
It is with disappointment that I raise a matter relating to the housing crisis. I heard a contribution earlier in the Order of Business about 29 rapid-build social housing units to be built on a site off Mourne Road.
The site was originally provided by the Sisters of Mercy on condition that housing for the elderly would be built on it. There is a clear crisis in the supply of social housing and there is an onus on politicians and political parties to show leadership. There will always be some objections or issues raised about the rapid-build housing that is being developed in Dublin. I have proposed a number of sites quite close to my own home where I believe rapid-build housing should be developed in order to reduce the number of families that are currently living in hotel rooms. The challenge in areas where rapid-build homes are being built is to make sure that the families who move in are integrated into the local community. We must also ensure that adequate services are provided but, above all, the houses need to be built.
I find the number of people who are currently living in hotel rooms politically and morally unacceptable. It is for this reason that I have great difficulty with Senator Ardagh raising issues with regard to the 29 units. The issue that should be raised in this House is why those units have not been built already. We should be asking why we have waited so long for those units to be built, not trying to delay them further. We have heard anti-austerity politicians saying that they will lead the march to stop the builders going on site while arguing strongly in the other House that we should build more homes.
That is doublespeak and we have also had doublespeak from Fianna Fáil here this morning. We need those homes built. There will never be a perfect site in the city for rapid-build homes. We must stop putting roadblocks in the way. We must work with communities to ensure they are delivered quickly. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his predecessor, Deputy Kelly, have allocated money to build the homes. The delivery is the problem. Senator Ardagh should stop putting roadblocks in the way of families getting homes. It is unacceptable to have raised this in the House. It is a local authority matter. We should assist local authorities and the Minister to ensure homes are built for families in hotel rooms, not put up roadblocks. The Senator was wrong to raise it here.
In the recently aired RTE two-part documentary "Rural Addiction", we saw the devastation that drugs are bringing to rural Ireland. It is not just an urban problem. Will the Leader bring the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to the Chamber? There is much focus on the Garda Síochána's fight against drugs and drug barons. However, the problem is that the drugs are getting into the country in the first place. In County Clare, drugs were found by accident. I am very concerned about the number of customs staff. They are the front line in stopping drugs coming into the country. In Ireland West Airport Knock there used to be a drugs sniffer dog, but there is no sniffer dog now. Earlier in the year, I raised this at a joint policing committee in County Mayo and nothing has been done. The customs staff at the airport, who are few in number, also have to man the coastline for drugs and deal with VRT, petrol stretching and diesel laundering. There is no sniffer dog in the whole Border, midlands and western region for the detection of drugs. They should be the first line of defence at airports.
The drug barons are very creative and innovative and go to the weakest point. That I am raising it in the House does not mean they do not know it is the weakest point. We need proper resources to be put into Customs and Excise. I have raised it at a more local forum in County Mayo and previously, when I was in a position to, by way of parliamentary questions. Nothing has been done. The front line is not with gardaí but customs officers and they need to be properly resourced. I would like the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to be invited to the House to discuss how Customs and Excise is waging its front-line war on drug barons and stopping drugs being brought into rural Ireland, and all the fallout that goes with it.
I hope Senator Neale Richmond, and everybody else, honked their horns when they drove past the teachers who were out on strike this morning.
I did not want to scare them.
The EU-Canada summit on the toxic Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, was cancelled today as talks in Belgium failed to reach an agreement. An agreement was due to be signed today by the EU and Canada.
They have just signed.
I applaud regions of Belgium on their position, given the damage CETA will and can cause to society. It was voted on in the House and won by the acquiescence of Fianna Fáil Members when they realised the way the political wind was blowing. The areas of Belgium will come under considerable pressure until they concede to big businesses that undermine democracy and destroy basic rights. CETA is the back door to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, the horrific US deal which has generated so much anger and opposition across Europe and which will become a major referendum issue, despite that the Government does not want it to be. I ask the Houses to respect Belgium's democracy and desist from strong-arm tactics and blackmail in their pressuring of the Belgian regions.
In the aftermath of remarks made by Senator Ray Butler, me and other Members about the appalling situation in Aleppo, I received an ungrammatical, badly spelled and mildly abusive letter from the Russian ambassador. I have replied to him in similar terms. He talks about tailor-made accusations. The House takes a very even-handed view of human rights issues and I hope it will continue. The accusations are not tailor made; they are independently verified. Horrendous attacks have been made on areas of civilian population and UN convoys, and targeted attacks have been made repeatedly on hospitals. The ambassador referred to unprecedented anti-Russian propaganda. I have no reason whatever to engage in anti-Russian propaganda and I would deprecate anybody who does so. The ambassador referred to American actions in the Middle East and said he failed to hear any accusations levelled against the Americans. I am sorry for the state of his hearing. I have repeatedly done so in the House. I have repeatedly instanced Fallujah. Regarding Aleppo, I said the West was in a very difficult position given the way in which the Americans had attacked Fallujah and the Israelis had attacked Gaza. I hope the House will continue to raise human rights issues.
I am a little concerned about the attitude to China. We have taken a very softly softly approach to China regarding human rights issues, and we should toughen it up. Our attitude is rather like the old song, "Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans". We think we must be very careful what we say about the Chinese. I do not think so. On the wireless this morning, I heard somebody repeat something to which I had been made privy, namely, the horrendous situation in China, where they are murdering people on a mass level in order to take organs from them for transplants. It is an utterly shocking practice and should be raised with the Chinese. The Chinese authorities, from what I know of them, will not respect people who are mealy-mouthed. They have much more respect for people who tell it straight as it is. The murder of hundreds of thousands of people to use their organs for transplants is utterly intolerable. It goes back to the worst atrocities of the Second World War.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 9 be dealt with before No. 1, if it is agreeable.
I second the amendment.
What is No. 9?
It is the publication of a Bill on the registration of professional home care providers. The second issue is the whole health service and, following on from what Senator Humphreys said on a previous day, the need to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in here regarding a number of issues. One of the issues we need to discuss with him is maternity services. A report was published about Portlaoise hospital and it made certain recommendations. It recommended that a director of midwifery be appointed in each of the 19 maternity units. Although they have been appointed in some units, there are difficulties with appointing them to some units for various reasons. The report is very important. It identified a number of deficiencies in maternity services and made recommendations as to how to deal with them. We are at a standstill and it is important that the Minister would come to the House to outline how he proposes to deal with it, what action will be taken and ensure the report is not just another report that is put on a shelf and left there until another issue arises in two, three or four years' time. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to give us a presentation on how the recommendations are being implemented, what stage they are at and when they will be fully implemented.
The Dublin marathon will take place shortly and I draw the Leader's attention to it. It is a hugely successful event with huge numbers from throughout the country participating, many of them for the benefit of charities. Running as a sport gets nothing like the media coverage it deserves compared with field or contact sports. Will the Leader raise with the relevant Minister the need for RTE to resume live coverage of the marathon? It is a wonderful showpiece and we would love to see aerial coverage of our beautiful Georgian city as people run around it. Most major cities, such as Lisbon and Paris, televise their main city marathon live.
I ask the Leader to draw that to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Ross.
In the past 24 hours I have received a substantial amount of correspondence on foot of my remarks about the long-established practice and great tradition of eminent people donating their archives and papers to the State. I would like to refer to one of the many issues raised with me. I am not talking about any particular case, regardless of how celebrated or eminent that person may be. I am talking in general. It seems that under the Finance Acts, people who give to the State items that are considered, from a treasure or heritage perspective, to be of value may be able to receive significant tax write-offs.
I am sorry I did not know that.
Indeed. It seems that this financial matter should be in the public domain. From what I understand, there will be a clamour for that gathering. I suggest that the Committee of Public Accounts inquire into this matter or that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, come before this House to explain how these tax cutbacks work. Who puts a value on the artefacts, papers and portfolios of individuals? Who benefits from the tax write-off? Does the individual benefit or can there be a wider corporate benefit in some way? I am not casting aspersions on any particular arrangement. The Minister might advise the House on this issue generally. The public would like to know how these things work. As the Taoiseach said once, "Paddy likes to know".
I second the amendment to the Order of Business that has been proposed by Senator Colm Burke. While I appreciate that Senator Ned O'Sullivan is speaking from the heart, I remind him that the project to which he refers is a welcome development in Ballina, County Mayo. To be fair to the person to whom the Senator alluded, who is a former Member of this House and a former President-----
I do not think the Senator made any allusions.
He did yesterday.
I was listening carefully.
She was much more than a President or a Senator. She was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of the papers relate to that role rather than to her time as President.
I ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, who is a former Member of this House, to come to the Seanad to discuss the state of our national roads. I read recently that, according to a report, our national roads are falling asunder and are badly in need of restructuring in some cases. What does the Minister propose to do about the structure of national roads throughout the country? He recently reduced the derogation in respect of the size of the loads that lorries can carry from 44 tonnes to 42 tonnes. This has put an enormous extra cost on road hauliers throughout the country. In effect, the carriage of goods to and from this country is more expensive because of the removal of the derogation. I would like the Minister to have another look at that because it is imposing significant expenses on road hauliers, who have also seen their insurance costs go sky-high in recent times. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister, Deputy Ross, into the House at an early opportunity.
I thank the 19 Senators who raised various matters this morning. I will begin with those raised by Senators Ardagh and Humphreys. To be fair to Senator Ardagh, she is very good at representing her local community. I think the matter she raised should be taken up with Dublin City Council in the first instance. I hope we do not see Dublin 8 and Dublin 12 being used as dumping grounds. As this is a planning matter, Dublin City Council has jurisdiction over it.
I agree with Senator Humphreys that the housing crisis needs to be addressed. There is a particular need to address the issue of supply. Obviously, an integration policy is needed when social housing or rapid-build housing is being developed. There is a whole-of-government response led by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy English. To be fair to the Minister, this has been a priority for him and for the Government. It is important to consider this in perspective. I completely agree with Senator Humphreys that representatives of Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit, in particular, are leading the charge against the provision of housing in many parts of the country where housing should be provided. I do not include Senator Ardagh in that group. She made a good point about integration and the need for a strategy around where housing is located. I suggest that she should take this matter up with the Minister. I would be happy to communicate with him on behalf of the Senator.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the Parole Board and raised the issue of planning. I will be happy to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House.
A number of Senators called for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come to the House. I would like to inform them that he will be in the Seanad on 17 November next to discuss the transport matters relating to his portfolio, including the issue of ports. I think Senator Boyhan is right about the ports strategy and the national ports policy. The Cathaoirleach made many good points in a previous Seanad about the ports policy of the time and the changes that were being made. Perhaps the wise words we heard from him then are coming home to roost now in some elements of this country's ports policy. We must ensure the question of the importance of our strategic ports is addressed with the Minister.
I apologise for the miscommunication and misunderstanding with Senator Grace O'Sullivan yesterday. I will be happy to accept her amendment to the Order of Business. I thank her for raising the matter this afternoon.
Senators Ó Ríordáin, Ó Clochartaigh, Gallagher and Devine raised the issue of today's strike. Senator Devine used one of her humorous lines. I want to put something on the record without getting into a political row. Language is important. It is completely wrong for Members to say that Fine Gael, as the lead party in the Government, does not understand what is happening with public sector workers or that it has not been engaged.
Fine Gael is not interested.
That is more of the bull to which we have to listen. We are interested. We should get the facts out there. The deal on offer to the ASTI would provide a pay increase of between 15% and 22% for new entrant teachers. I am a former teacher and member of the ASTI. I understand the frustration of public sector workers. I repeat that Fine Gael in government wants to protect the fragile economy so that it can grow for the benefit of all our citizens. This means that there must be responsibility in the context of how we manage the economy and bring about pay restoration, as we are committed to doing. The Lansdowne Road agreement is very clear in that regard. The important point is that there should be talks and engagement. There has to be a resolution. Both sides should be able to agree to that in time. It is regrettable that we have a strike today. It is upsetting for the teachers who want to be in the classrooms. It is upsetting for the students, particularly those in exam classes, who want to pursue their curriculums. It is upsetting and frustrating for parents who have had to make alternative arrangements for the care of their children. This has implications for the work of the State in many ways. We want to have a sustainable public service that is well managed and well resourced. We want people to get paid a decent wage. That is what we are committed to doing. If we were to adopt the Sinn Féin model or policy-----
The Senator has not even read it so he does not know what he is commenting on.
I have read it.
No, the Senator has not. He is making it up as he goes along.
Sinn Féin is for nothing and against everything. That is its mantra.
Fine Gael is against public investment.
It is not about honking horns.
It is not fair to say that when Fine Gael is against public investment.
It is about working to bring a resolution to a dispute that has an impact on the lives of people.
I respectfully remind the Leader that he said he was not going to get into a political battle.
Sorry. The Cathaoirleach is right.
The Leader might steer clear of the politics.
We cannot believe a word he says.
I will not respond to that.
I was speaking in jest.
I appreciate that.
I would like to inform Senators Richmond and Devine, who raised the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, that a resolution has been agreed this morning. The Commission reached a deal with the Wallonian regional Government.
I am told it will be ratified by midnight tomorrow.
That is terrible news.
Not at all. The Senator should have heard what Commissioner Hogan had to say.
It is disgusting that strong-arm tactics such as blackmail have been used.
I thank both Senators for-----
This should be a matter for the courts. That is why this House was so worried.
That was not the Walloons' problem.
It does not matter what their problem was. The important thing was to stop it until the issues that mattered were settled.
I gave Senator Norris a lot of latitude.
I appreciate that.
I ask him to respect the reply.
I thank Senators Devine and Richmond for raising this matter.
Senator Richmond also raised some important educational matters in his local area, with specific reference to the Ballinteer, Stepaside and Notre Dame schools. I would be happy to ask the Minister to discuss those matters with the Senator.
Senator Swanick raised the issue of tobacco and linked it to the NTMA. We all agree on the need to reduce the effect of tobacco on the lives of so many of our citizens. Over 6,000 people die from smoking-related cancer each year in this country. The number is way too high.
I will take up with the Minister the matter of the blanket bogs raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh and I will ask the Minister to liaise with him in regard to that issue. Regarding the matter for the hospital in Galway, I am aware there are plans to invest in it. It is a matter for the HSE, in terms of both the service plan and the capital plan. The Senator might talk to the HSE. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House anyway in regard to the matter-----
It is a long-term policy issue.
-----to have a discussion on the health area.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the future of the post office network. He cited both the Grant Thornton and the Bobby Kerr reports. Senator Coghlan is right. We need to work with the Irish Postmasters Union to see how we can ensure there is a vibrant post office network across the country, not only in rural Ireland but also in urban Ireland. I will have the Minister come to the House regarding that particular matter.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of Mullingar. My colleague, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, has been strong at pushing for investment in Mullingar. I am sure we can have a debate on 17th with the Minister, Deputy Ross, regarding the matters Senator Davitt raised.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Mr. Odhrán McKenna in the North. I wish Mr. McKenna well, and thank the members of the GAA community, in particular, in St. John's GAA club, which I myself had the pleasure of visiting once or twice in my days trying to play hurling with UCC and Maynooth, and the health care workers and staff for their Trojan work. I wish Mr. McKenna and his family every happiness, and wish him well in his recovery.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the Bank of Ireland now having automation in tellers in banks. It is a worry because it is happening in parts of the country. In some cases, one walks into a bank and goes to the machine. They do not want to see one come into the bank. It is all about online banking. The banks must recognise there is a cohort of customers who, for whatever reason, do not use online banking and are reluctant to use machines, and they want to have that personal interface. Even though we do not necessarily own Bank of Ireland, it is important that the bank offers customers a choice within branches at the same time because it is about the customer.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of addiction and the lack of investment by the Customs and Excise in sniffer dogs. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House for that matter.
I am glad Senator Norris got a response from the Russian ambassador and I am glad the Senator equally replied in his strident and assertive, but genuine, sincerely-held views on the matter.
No bother to Senator Norris.
I hope that we can have a resolution to the issue. On the issue of China, Senator Norris is correct. Human rights affect the lives of people. Whether it is a powerhouse like China or a country in any part of the world, no matter who they are, human rights should be upheld and we must fight to have the dignity of the person respected at all times.
I thank the Leader.
I would be happy to accept Senator Colm Burke's amendment to the Order of Business. The Senator raised the issue of maternity services. We had that discussion yesterday and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House on that matter.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the coverage of Dublin city marathon. I completely agree that it is disappointing that there is no live coverage of the biggest marathon in the country. The marathon is changed to Sunday this year but I would hope that the national broadcaster would reciprocate by showing coverage of the event. If I may at this juncture, I wish our colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who is running the marathon, every success and wish him well. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, is also running the marathon and I wish him well. I wish every success to all those travelling to Dublin to run or walk in the marathon, and those who are in wheelchairs, and are raising money for charity in a competitive way. I hope they have a safe journey to Dublin and a safe route around the course.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the matter of bequeaths and the tax incentives for such purposes. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House regarding that.
Finally, Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue about the Minister, Deputy Ross, which I referred to. The Senator also made reference to the matter raised by Senator Colm Burke.
I would be happy to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 8 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Colm Burke has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 9 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.