The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on transport, tourism and sport, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 2.35 p.m.; No. 2, Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 4.50 p.m.; and No. 3, Private Members' Business, Protection of Employment (Uncertain Hours) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the allocation of time to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Today I wish to raise the issue of domestic violence. I welcome Ms Maria McDonald, a founder member of the Victims' Rights Alliance to the Visitors Gallery. I have read disturbing comments made by the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr. Rhona Mahony, about attacks on mums-to-be in their own homes being pretty common. She further stated that these pregnant women are more likely to be assaulted in their abdomen than in their face. Furthermore, it is estimated that one in eight pregnant women is the victim of domestic violence. Dr. Mahony said that domestic violence affects all parts of our society. Shame and stigma are still felt by the victims. The victims are not the ones who should be suffering from shame and anxiety. The man or woman who is the abuser is the person who ought to be ashamed of himself or herself.
I do not believe enough is being done to raise awareness of domestic violence, and that nobody, male or female, should be abused or assaulted in his or her own home. In a further worrying report, it appears that battered women are being turned away from shelters outside the area where they normally live. It is totally unacceptable that women who have been assaulted in their own homes are then subsequently turned away from shelters that are supposed to be there to help and support these vulnerable women. It has been reported today that the Victims' Rights Alliance believes that Ireland is contravening an EU directive that was supposed to have been transposed into Irish law but which has not been to date. A representative from the Victims' Rights Alliance has reported that it is aware of circumstances where women are being turned away from shelters because they do not reside in the catchment area. It is nothing short of appalling that women who are courageous enough to walk out of their homes and brave enough to take that leap away from their abusers should find that the door is then shut in their faces at the place they seek refuge. Where do the shelters expect those battered and abused women to go to when they turn them away from their doors? We know the women are likely to end up back in the home of the abuser. It is like something one would see in a Third World country. The Government must act urgently on this information and show that it stands with victims of these crimes. I thank Ms Maria McDonald for coming to the House today. If any Members would like to speak to her later, I am sure she would be delighted to pass on her contact details to arrange a meeting.
The Leader is aware that we met the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, yesterday about the Social Welfare Bill. One of the issues which arose was the application of class S and a change of entitlements, especially for members of local authorities. We communicated this to those members yesterday and we have been inundated with queries this morning. For example, those who have been paying PRSI under class K are concerned about whether or not there would be retrospective application of entitlements-----
Is the Senator explaining on behalf of the Minister?
If Senator Coghlan does not mind-----
Senator Craughwell, without interruption.
Yes, without interruption.
They are also concerned about those members who are over the age of 66 and if those members will have a refund of contributions. There is also the question of those who are over 66 and if they will now qualify for full-----
The Minister could have an amendment.
Senator Coghlan will have his chance to speak.
He is very bold today.
-----contributory old age pension. Will they be entitled to that with effect from 2017 or a pro rata old age pension depending on the contributions they have made? Members of local authorities have never been advised formally of their entitlement to make contributions over their lifetime with their local authorities for class A. In some county councils members have not been made aware of the entitlement to make a voluntary contribution and in that case will they be entitled to make retrospective voluntary contributions in the periods prior to the class K? While we have done a lot there is much yet to be done and there are many questions that need to be answered. Perhaps the Leader could put those questions to the Minister and make a statement in due course to the House.
I wish to comment on Senator Ardagh's contribution about domestic violence. Research was published last week that shows one in six pregnant women is at risk of mental ill health and depression. The subject of domestic abuse against pregnant women was included in the research, but it did not go into detail, and the rage that is displayed against them and their unborn child. I welcome the research. It is a very worthwhile discussion. We need to keep it in the headlines.
I also wish to raise a good news story with regard to mental health. Yesterday, the Housing Agency and the HSE launched a book containing housing design guidelines for providing accommodation for those who live with persistent mental health conditions. At a time when we seem to be trying to break down walls brick by brick to try to secure more funding for mental health services, especially in the area of 24-7 crisis intervention, this story is uplifting. I wholeheartedly commend the staff of the HSE and the Housing Agency who were involved in putting together this 121 page booklet which took four years of work. I believe it is the first of its kind in the world.
What is most pleasing is that the majority of measures outlined in this booklet are not costly. The authors provide simple solutions for those with severe cognitive impairment and memory loss which will make their lives simpler and enable them to live independently. The booklet is particularly welcome in the context of the planned large-scale building of social housing which I hope will begin without delay. A point to note is that the booklet only relates to houses. The guidelines therein should be adapted for use in hospitals, primary care centres, mental health residential care centres, GP surgeries, schools, colleges and so forth. I hope this is the start of a process of changing our way of thinking about this issue.
I cannot conclude without mentioning the urgent need for the full implementation of A Vision for Change and the most pressing need for the provision of 24/7 crisis intervention services. An online petition on mental health services launched by the Uplift organisation yesterday has had thousands of responses so far.
I thank and congratulate the staff of the HSE on this most welcome piece of work, of which they and the service users should be extremely proud.
I commend Senator Catherine Ardagh for raising the issue of domestic violence and agree with her comments. I also commend the Safe Ireland summit, a very strong gathering of people who refocused the view of domestic violence as being a women's problem to being a societal problem. The summit demonstrated that domestic violence is a problem for society as a whole and that it will take an all-of-society approach to tackle it.
I concur with Senator Ardagh's points on that issue and ask the Leader to schedule a debate on the matter with particular reference to the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, its ratification and the provisions and measures to be put in place under the terms of the convention. I also understand that new domestic violence legislation is in play and it would be useful for this House to have a real and high profile debate on the issue during which we can discuss our concerns more deeply.
We have had some debate on the recent election in the United States of America which I am not going to reprise now. However, there are some issues which we may need to tease out, particularly with regard to those who did not vote. There has been considerable focus on those who voted in different ways in the election but a vast number of people, well over 40% of the electorate, did not vote. That is where we see disaffection and people pulling away from the political system. This is a concern for all of us in Europe as well. We should debate the wider question of encouraging political engagement and rebuilding connections with those who feel that they have no candidate for whom to vote.
That said, I want to speak more to policies, which is our focus in this House. I have deep concerns about racism. We have seen both misogyny and racism growing across America. We have seen a rise in racist attacks since the election, much as we saw in the UK following the Brexit referendum. There is an issue when the political class sends out signals that allow for racial hatred to gain traction. We have seen the appointment of somebody who has been recognised as a white supremacist, namely, the chief strategist who has been appointed to the President-elect's incoming cabinet. This is an individual who has a strong record in white nationalism and whose appointment has been described by the Ku Klux Klan as "amazing". Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan is planning to hold an open and celebratory parade to mark the outcome of the election.
These are issues of concern for us. In Ireland, nationalism and racism have occasionally reared their heads. However, I am pleased to say that thanks to the wisdom of the Irish people, they have not gained traction here. Deep racism has not gained traction in any of the political parties in this country. We have seen it emerging again this week in yet another attempt to gain political credibility for positions of hatred. The wisdom of the Irish people has ensured that such views have not gained traction but as parliamentarians we have a role to play in sending out very strong signals of inclusion, equality and anti-racism.
Climate change is another area of huge concern. The President-elect has appointed individuals who do not believe in climate change to US environmental agencies. One year on from the Paris Agreement, which the world signed together, the nations of the world have gathered again to debate climate change. There have been very strong signals from China, India and others to the new Administration in the United States of America that there can be no roll back on climate change commitments.
I will conclude with a question to the Leader. I ask him to ensure that the Irish Government also sends a very strong signal that the US election result will not be used as an excuse to allow things to slide but will be taken as a mandate to strengthen our commitments on climate change. I know that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be in the House later to discuss transport related issues but I ask the Leader to invite him to come back to the House at a future date to specifically address the question of sustainable transport.
I warmly welcome yesterday's belated visit by Ms Arlene Foster to Government Buildings. It is very important that engagement takes place between our Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on how to deal with Brexit. I also welcome the setting up of the all-Ireland forum on the issue, which has already met for its first session. However, I am very disappointed that local government in this country has been excluded from the forum. Neither the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, or the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, NILGA, were invited to take part in the forum. I mean no disrespect to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA, but surely representatives of local government across the island of Ireland are more entitled to be at the forum than the ISPCA, which was given speaking time at the first session.
I remember the dark days of the Troubles when councillors like myself went North and met DUP, UUP and Sinn Féin councillors. We brought them to County Clare to a conference on tourism in an attempt to break down barriers. We socialised with our Northern Ireland counterparts and realised that we had much in common. Out of that flowed the peace process in which we played a role. Now that Ireland is in trouble again, a decision has been taken to exclude councillors from the next challenge facing the island. The aforementioned cross-Border interaction between councillors led to many cross-Border initiatives, INTERREG initiatives and many successful Border projects. In that context, I ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to include local government representatives in the next round of discussions of the forum.
I wish to raise another issue which is directly related to Brexit and which was raised at a meeting I chaired recently on the economic effects of Brexit on the agrifood industry. Many exporting small and medium enterprises, SMEs, do not understand currency fluctuations or hedging funds and are losing trade because of their lack of knowledge. In that context I support the call by the Irish Exporters Association for training for SMEs in this area. Training courses should be rolled out across the country by the IDA, Enterprise Ireland or a similar body so that SMEs can understand the issues and maximise trade.
Finally, I welcome the bid by the IRFU to host the Rugby World Cup. However, as a Tipperary man I am puzzled that the second biggest stadium in the country which holds 50,000 people and whose hinterland can cater for 30,000 has been excluded from the list of 12 stadia. I do not want to mention any other county but the stadium in the nearest county to mine can only hold 22,000. That stadium cannot even host a Leinster final but it has been included in the IRFU's bid. The bid is being driven by Mr. Brian O'Driscoll and my former Labour Party colleague, Mr. Dick Spring, and I ask them to reassess the list of stadia and to include the stadium in Thurles on a longer list. I hope the exclusion of Semple Stadium is by accident rather than design. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the IRFU on my behalf. Perhaps Senator Neale Richmond could also use his influence in this regard.
I wish to raise the issue of a new library for Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. The college is to the forefront of teacher training and many Members would have constituents who are students there.
In 1978, when the library was built, 250 seats were provided for 750 students. Approximately 3,500 students currently attend the college, with the figure expected to rise to more than 5,000 by 2020. The students have made a good case to the Minister. I would like the Leader to raise the issue with the Minister because the college needs a library in the near future.
I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to respond to serious concerns about the number of gardaí working in cybercrime. In 2012, in the depths of the recession, one quarter of all organisations in the State, ranging from charities and sports clubs to businesses, reported suffering a cyber-attack. At that time, 31 gardaí were working in the area of cybercrime. A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 44% of organisations in Ireland had been the victims of cyber-attacks in the past two years. Garda numbers decreased by 10% in the same period. Of those affected, one in five lost between €92,000 and €4.6 million. Cybercrime is a major problem and a serious concern for any organisation that uses the Internet.
I recently dealt with a constituent whose business had €20,000 removed or phished, to use the proper term, from its accounts. Were it not for early detection by the staff and good co-operation among banks, the money would have been lost. The Garda was not notified of this case by the banks. When I queried the reason for this failure, I was informed the Garda does not have sufficient resources to deal with this ongoing problem.
The Taoiseach speaks about having a smart economy for smart people and I agree that this is the direction we should take. He also referred to creating 44,000 jobs in the information and communications technology, ICT, sector by 2018. If we cannot police the Internet highway and if we do not have the capabilities to investigate serious crime, our smart economy will turn into the wild west. This is a serious concern which must be addressed immediately and I would appreciate if the Minister came to the House to discuss it.
I thank Senator Denis Landy who appears to believe I have some sort of sway over the IRFU. As vice-captain of Old Wesley's Thirds B-15, I am not sure how far my influence stretches.
That is a very powerful position.
The Senator should not downplay it.
I agree that Semple Stadium should be considered in our Rugby World Cup bid. I attended the launch yesterday when a clear statement was made that the size was not necessarily the issue with regard to stadiums because the Rugby World Cup is slightly different from soccer and the Olympic Games in that smaller stadiums are also needed. I will convey the Senator's request to the esteemed gentlemen on Old Wesley's thirds B-15.
A number of Senators raised the issue of Russian activity in Syria and Ukraine. I am concerned that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is indirectly supporting Russian state-sponsored propaganda. The news channel, Russia Today, is based in the Digital Hub in Dublin's Liberties, which is financed by the Government. The purported purpose of the Digital Hub is to support the growth and inclusion of indigenous enterprises. Russia Today has been sanctioned not less than 15 times by Ofcom for breaches of impartiality and pursuing a political agenda. I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to come to the House and outline how Russia Today qualifies to base itself in the Digital Hub and to clarify whether it is appropriate that it is based there.
Yesterday, I spoke about a report highlighting stark inequality in respect of broadband in rural areas. Today, we see a report indicating that Irish Rail is facing insolvency and rural routes may be cut if Iarnród Éireann does not receive an additional €103 million per annum over the next five years. This additional funding would only allow the company to remain solvent and the figure does not take account of the investment needed to address the neglect and failure of successive Governments in respect of our rail links.
I remember sitting in an economics lecture some years ago when we discussed European investment in various infrastructure projects and examples were cited of such investment in rural and urban areas. In the case of Dublin, the example given was the port tunnel, whereas the example for rural areas was the Youthreach programme in Kiltimagh, County Mayo. I am not minimising the great work done by the Youthreach programme but reminding Senators of the inequality in investment in the west and rural areas as opposed to urban areas, particularly Dublin.
The excuse used to close railway lines outside Dublin will be that they are underused. How can we expect to increase passenger numbers when the rail links are not tailored to meet the needs of local populations, including the need to ensure connectivity between bus and train timetables? A fully integrated transport system would result in a significant increase in the numbers using public transport overnight.
The report also suggests that the Ennis to Athenry line, which was opened in 2010, could be a target for closure. This section of the western rail corridor carried 102,000 passengers in 2015, more than double the number carried in 2014 and far in excess of Iarnród Éireann's forecast in the original business case for reopening the Galway to Limerick passenger train service.
The programme for Government provides for an independent costing and review of phase 2 of the western rail corridor between Athenry and Claremorris for passenger and freight use, and explicitly states that no measures will be taken to prevent the future reactivation of the corridor for rail use, as set out in the McCann report. The millions of euro spent on advertising the Wild Atlantic Way must be backed up by substantial investment in infrastructure, including rail links.
I look forward to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport coming to the House to discuss how he intends to fulfil the commitments made in the programme for Government and support infrastructure, including rail infrastructure, in rural areas.
I am pleased to note that Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney has been listed as one of the IRFU's proposed stadiums in its 2023 Rugby World Cup bid. This is a good move. The Irish Times named Fitzgerald Stadium as the most picturesque stadium in the country, which is correct given its backdrop of mountains and lakes and everything else that part of the country has to offer. I have no doubt it is an exceptional facility and rugby fans from around the globe will be delighted with it. It will showcase not only what County Kerry has to offer but what the country has to offer.
It will distract the players.
Ciúnas, le do thoil.
Senator Wilson obviously supports the proposal.
I advise Senator Coghlan to take his seat.
I had better obey the Cathaoirleach.
The Senator's seat is very precious.
I join Senators Landy, Coghlan and others in congratulating the Irish Rugby Football Union on its fantastic bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup on the island of Ireland. As a half-Tipperary man, I am, like Senator Landy, disappointed that Thurles Stadium was not among the GAA stadiums included in the bid. I am also disappointed that Kingspan Breffni Park was not included in the list of stadiums. While I understand the reasons given by the organising committee for not including Thurles Stadium, access issues and a lack of accommodation would not apply in the case of Breffni Park in Cavan which can-----
They certainly would not apply to Killarney either.
We can host, accommodate and facilitate over 33,000 people. We have some of the best hotels on the island and facilitated over 250,000 people over three years at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. I am sure, therefore, that we could facilitate the few who would come to watch a rugby match in Breffni Park.
Such commitment to the local area.
Perhaps they might consider it down the road.
Do they perform the haka at the Fleadh Cheoil?
I agree wholeheartedly with what Senator Rose Conway-Walsh said about the railways. The advice I give to any area with a rail service is to hold on to it, irrespective of how much it would cost to do so, as it is a very important asset. In the part of the country from which I come and the part of the Six Counties governed by Sinn Féin and the DUP where there is the lack of railway infrastructure, we know of the disadvantage caused. I, therefore, encourage those served by a rail network to hold on to it.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh also mentioned Belmullet Youthreach. Youthreach has been one of the most important educational programmes in the history of the State and provided much-needed education and training for over 10,000 early school leavers since its inception 30 years ago. Belmullet is lucky to have one of the finest Youthreach centres in the country.
It would be remiss of me not mention Athlone in the context of the Rugby World Cup. We have the great Buccaneers stadium in Athlone which is very central and could accommodate matches, too.
I wish to speak about mental health. Over six months ago Fine Gael made an election commitment to increase mental health funding to €175 million, to build on A Vision for Change by resourcing adult and child mental health services in the community and to ensure greater access to counselling and psychological services, thereby reducing waiting lists for child and adult mental health services. I am somewhat disappointed that in County Westmeath only two of five posts of clinical psychologist in child and adult mental health services have been filled. While I do not know if it is true, I believe the funding to fill the remaining three posts has been withdrawn. Waiting times for children with serious conditions such as eating disorders and depression in some cases are over 12 months. As a parent and mindful of the ever-present worry of teenage suicide and the bullying that takes place on Facebook etc., a waiting time of more than four weeks, let alone 12 months, is not acceptable for someone with a serious and escalating condition. The young adult mental health services in County Westmeath which cater for young people in the critical 16 to 18 years age range have no clinical psychologist. I appreciate that we have a Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services who does a very good job and ask the Leader to invite her to come to the House to outline her plans for child and adult mental health services, with a particular emphasis, obviously, on County Westmeath.
I am excited about the IRFU's proposal, into which I will not go, other than to agree with previous speakers. I raised the issue yesterday for those who were not here and have received quite a number of responses since.
Another Independent first.
However, it is such a good news story that it is worth repeating, but I will not go on at length.
The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, will be in the House this afternoon for statements on public transport. Some very valid points have been made, particularly by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, about rural development and sustaining rural communities. All transport services cannot be Dublin or even city-centric; they must be provided countrywide. I hope we will have a full attendance to put all of these questions to the Minister when he comes here in a few hours. We will have the opportunity to ask him questions and I look forward with interest to seeing the participation of all parties and Senators.
A story appeared in a number of national newspapers yesterday and has been echoed in the media today. I refer to the scandal of the historical drug trials that took place on children in State care in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The former Ministers Ms Mary Harney and Deputy Micheál Martin initiated a number of statutory inquiries but they all came to nothing. The newspapers yesterday contained a story about mother and baby vaccine trials, with files in Bessborough allegedly being altered in the 1960s. These are very serious allegations. I have been deeply involved in a campaign based on my personal experiences over many years. The Laffoy commission investigated elements of three samples of the alleged drug trials and substantial documentation was secured on court proceedings. This is a really important case, not only for the Bessborough home in Munster, one of the trial areas looked at by the former Minister Deputy Micheál Martin. The matter needs to be reopened. I intend to use Private Members' time to raise a number of issues and share them with the House. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to investigate them. I have today drafted a letter that I will send to the Minister and copy it to the Leader. This is an important issue that we need to discuss in the Seanad.
Last week I referred to the urgent need for the Government to agree a start date for talks on a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement. We have since had the statement from the Taoiseach clinging to the fantasy that the agreement can continue to run for another two years. There have been hints of something different, but the Government seems oblivious to the anger and hurt among public service workers. To shed some light on the topic, I mention the plight of National Ambulance Service staff. I am sure everyone here will agree that they do extremely important work which they do very well. Here is a quote from one of them:
I'm an EMT, and my pay is so bad I have to sometimes take emergency annual leave as I can't afford diesel for my car to get to work - I work an hour from home.
I have also had to wait until 12 midnight at a petrol station for my wages to go into my bank, so I have enough to pay for diesel to get home. I only get to do a week's shopping once a fortnight as I can't afford to do it every week. I don't know how much more my family and I can take.
This is a second quote:
My girlfriend and I are really struggling; we have a baby on the way. The HSE have decided to station me a few hundred kilometres away from home, meaning we have to pay rent at home and where I am stationed. It's getting to the point where I'll be doing what colleagues are already doing; I'll be sleeping in my car. There is no rent allowance to assist staff who are based away from home. It's bad enough that I have to be away from my partner but for the salary and the stress we are under it's just horrific and there is nowhere to turn. I could be years away from a transfer. Isn't having kids, buying a home and getting married supposed to be a recipe for a happy life? We simply can't afford to do any of those things ... I am now looking for alternative work in my home town.
The people concerned cannot wait for another two years. We need the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House as a matter of urgency to debate the issue of public sector pay. I do not think the Government understands the anger and hurt felt. We need it to stop dilly-dallying and prevaricating and instead to give us a date for the commencement of these important talks.
I congratulate the ICTU on lodging a claim for a 4% pay rise in the private sector. It is high time ordinary workers got a slice of the so-called recovery.
I was not here yesterday, but I am delighted that Ireland has applied to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. I am amazed and amused at everybody falling over himself or herself to complain that matches would not be played in Nowlan Park, Thurles or wherever else. It is not long since the GAA had Rule 27 which was passed in 1922. It stated: "Any member of the Association who plays or encourages in any way rugby, football, hockey or any imported game which is calculated to injuriously affect our National Pastimes is suspended from the Association". Is it not amazing how far we have come?
Dr. Douglas Hyde, who was President of this country at the time, was expelled from the GAA for attending an international soccer match in Dalymount Park but a Gaelic football ground in Roscommon was named after him. Liam Brady was also expelled from the GAA as was Moss Keane for playing under an assumed name. We have come an awful long way. I remind people who give out about rugby being played on GAA pitches or whatever to consider what went on 40 years ago. Ireland was a different place but it is in a much better place today.
I had hoped Hillary Clinton would have been elected President of the United States but Donald Trump has been elected. I echo the words of Dave Chappelle, a black comedian, who said he was going to give Trump a chance and that we "demand that he give us one too". We need to stand back and give the President-elect of the United States a chance. Some of his pronouncements and outbursts before the election were misinformed and unwelcome. Now we must stand back, give him a chance and demand that he gives us one too.
I wish the Senator well with his paternity leave. I call Senator Swanick.
As a health professional, I am concerned about a disturbing and unregulated trend that has emerged in the health care sector of late. I refer to so-called health specialists with no formal medical or nursing training who rent rooms in hotels around the country. They provide cardiovascular health assessments to vulnerable patients using simple probes that can be bought on eBay yet they compare their activities with the gold standard of angiography. It is worrying because these conmen mislead patients and often give them a false sense of security. The assessments are completely inappropriate. It takes six years to qualify as a doctor and at least five years of postgraduate training to have the skills to take an adequate history from a patient, perform an examination, instigate investigations, make a diagnosis and make a prognosis that predicts how a disease will progress. The Medical Practitioners Act 2007 governs what medical practitioners do, and rightly so. Who governs medical fraudsters? The sale of insurance and financial products is highly regulated but the sale of misleading information is not. These conmen take large sums of cash from rural communities on a weekly basis and I would like to see their tax returns for same. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to discuss this important but worrying matter that has raised its head in the past few months.
I enjoy being lectured by Senator Gavan. Yesterday he lectured us on the Spanish Civil War.
Today he lectured us on the Lansdowne Road agreement. I remind Senator Gavan that it is ordinary taxpayers who must pay for an increase in public sector pay. On the one hand, he cannot argue for increased public sector pay while, on the other hand, call for an increase in the take-home pay of people who work in the private sector.
Of course one can.
No. If one raises the level of money paid to the public sector, then more taxation must be collected. There is no other way to do so. The Government has been fair about public sector pay agreements.
I said that.
We need to step back. Ireland is facing major challenges in terms of its exports to the UK. The amount of exports to the UK has decreased so less income is being generated. We need to be careful how we deal with Brexit. We also need to be careful with the words we choose and not give a false sense of hope. Let us remember that public sector workers earn €200 a week more on average than people who work in the private sector.
This morning I tabled a Commencement matter on local authorities. We do not appear to have had a debate in this House on value for money in local authorities. Over €1.325 billion was collected in 2014 and I understand that €1.4 billion was collected in 2015. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to debate value for money and services, in particular the reports of the Local Government Audit Service and the National Oversight & Audit Commission, which was set up in 2014. We have never debated these matters in this House.
Yesterday Senators, including myself, spoke about the Remembrance Day ceremonies. I read with disgust one of today's newspaper headlines. It read: "Sinn Féin Senator has urged caution when discussing Remembrance Day ceremonies." In response, I want to give our Sinn Féin friends a little bit of history. My great uncle, Peter Laffey, who joined the American Army, was killed in France in 1917. Many of the people who fought in the First World War joined up because they had to feed their families and earn a living. Today's newspaper article stated that there were more complex issues. I contend there are issues with every war. Are we to forget these Irish men who were slaughtered?
That is not the point.
That is not what the Sinn Féin person said.
That is what Sinn Féin is trying to say.
No, it is not.
I urge the Senator not to get so annoyed about it.
I urge Senator Butler to address his comments to the Chair.
Sinn Féin called for a reasoned debate.
My family were silenced for long enough.
We want a reasoned debate. Emotion is not going to work here.
The families of people who fought in the First World War were silenced for long enough. No Sinn Féin Senator from Belfast will tell me to be cautious.
Senator Butler is a partitionist.
Senator Butler is bad news.
We must remember the people who gave their lives in the First World War.
Senator Butler is a Twenty-six Counties partitionist.
I will not succumb to bully boy tactics from anybody like that Sinn Féin person when remembering these people.
I urge Senator Butler to bring his contribution down a notch or two.
Ireland has come a long way, and no thanks to Sinn Féin.
The Senator is very bigoted.
I urge Senator Butler to respect the Chair.
I add my voice to those of colleagues who raised the issue of domestic and sexual violence. The topic is, and has been, a very dark and silent challenge for many families and individuals who have suffered. They have probably not told their closest friends and family. Like mental health and other issues, it behoves us all to speak about domestic violence and to empower and provide support to anyone who has been subjected to violence. I welcome and commend the national awareness campaign on domestic and sexual violence entitled "What would you do?" launched by the Tánaiste today. Earlier I mentioned empowerment but to me, and I think colleagues will agree, educating young people to have respect for others is important. This includes respect for males and females because violence is meted out to males in the home as well. It is important we voice that aspect in the House. It is essential to support victims so that when they cry out for help they find support. The more we speak about the issue and bring it out into the open, then the greater the support victims will have. I concur with all my colleagues who raised the issue here today.
I wish to raise another important issue which is the elephant in the room, namely, climate change. It is the greatest economic challenge facing Ireland and the rest of the world. Members have mentioned that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be here today. The transport, agricultural and energy sectors face huge challenges in terms of reducing carbon emissions in accordance with Ireland's international obligations. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on climate change, to outline the national mitigation strategies and to discuss how we can address the challenges.
Renewable energy has not been fully harnessed in this country. We need an honest debate on renewable energies, including wind, solar and hydro power. Many objections have been lodged against wind farms and there are many applications for solar and hydro schemes. We must grasp the nettle that is renewable energy. Unless we engage with communities and educate people about the benefits of renewable energy, we will not make enough progress to meet our international obligations and Ireland will suffer penalties. We need to debate renewable energy in this House and in wider society.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be here shortly, so I will not anticipate the debate.
The report on the condition of our rail network was before Cabinet yesterday and was also disgracefully leaked beforehand. The report is very worrying, particularly for those who live in rural Ireland and the remoter parts of the country. I understand comments were made on this before I came into the House. It will be another real blow to rural Ireland if we cannot support and maintain the basic rail infrastructure that has been in place since Victorian times. It looks as if no rail line is making money apart from Dublin to Cork and, possibly, Dublin to Limerick, with all the branch lines in serious trouble. Anyone who uses the train regularly will have known for some time that people are just not using the rail network. There are many reasons for that - some quite positive and some quite negative. We will have a chance to tease these issues out with the Minister shortly.
I have been going to the theatre a bit lately, for the good of my health, and I was at two productions in the past week, "The Kings of the Kilburn High Road" in the Gaiety and a new play by Frank McGuinness in the Abbey, "Donegal". The state of Irish drama and theatre is fantastic at the moment and there are some great productions. I call for a debate with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on the role theatre and the arts generally can play in cultural revival and the revival of tourism in Ireland. Perhaps the Leader would facilitate this as it is a positive story.
Senator Feighan has just stepped out of the Chamber but I congratulate him on the birth of his daughter. As the Cathaoirleach said, he will not qualify for paternity benefit as he is a Member of Seanad Éireann, which is the only anomaly in the Bill.
A big issue has emerged in the past few days in the agricultural industry regarding live exports. Cork Marts has announced its decision to pull out of the live export trade, which means one third of the live export calves that leave Ireland at the moment will now go to different markets. Cork Marts exported a third of all Friesian calves last year, mainly Holstein Friesian bull calves which it is important to get out of the system. They went to markets like Holland and Spain and the decision will have a major effect not only on the dairy industry, and those who produce dairy calves, but the beef industry where we will have the possibility of a major flood of undesirable animals into the market. These animals are more important for the veal trade than the beef trade itself. How we deal with the surplus is a major question for the industry and it is important that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine comes to the Chamber within the next two weeks to discuss the issue as a matter of urgency. If we do not take action between now and next February it will be too late, as the knock-on effect in two years' time will leave us with a beef market flooded with underweight carcasses which will be hard to sell.
It might be appropriate for a Commencement matter debate next week.
The issue of rural rail should not come down to a debate between rural Ireland and urban Ireland. The reality is that billions have been spent on transportation in Dublin city on the Luas cross-city service, and it is appropriate that this is the case, but people living in rural Ireland have the right to be able to commute from one town to another. Elderly people living in parts of west Clare have a legitimate expectation of getting a bus into Ennis and onto Limerick, reasonably comfortably. That is not the case at the moment. It is good that a public consultation has been announced but we need to realise that we have to invest in public transport, not just in urban Ireland but in rural Ireland too.
I also wish to raise the issue of the accessibility of our railway stations as many of them across the country are not accessible for people with disabilities. It would not cost a fortune to make them accessible and I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this particular issue of how we make our public railway and bus stations accessible to people who have mobility impairments, such as elderly people. It is totally unacceptable that the busy railway station at Ennis, the capital town of County Clare, has no lift to take wheelchair passengers from one platform to the other. In this day and age it is not acceptable and we should not stand by and allow it to continue.
I thank the 22 Members of the Seanad who raised matters on the Order of Business this morning. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom fíorfháilte a chuir roimh an gComhairleoir Brendan Thornhill from Wicklow, who is in the Visitors Gallery. I welcome Councillor Brendan Thornhill from Wicklow to the Visitors Gallery.
Senators Ardagh, Devine, Higgins and Coffey raised the issue of domestic violence. I welcome Maria McDonald to the Visitors Gallery and commend her on the work she is doing. It is very important that we have a debate on the issue in this Chamber. Senator Ardagh made reference to Rhona Mahony and to the one in eight women who have to endure domestic violence when pregnant, which is unacceptable. In the SAFE Ireland summit earlier this week we heard that one in four women experience domestic violence and one in two has to endure sexual harassment so I am pleased that, this morning, the Tánaiste is launching a new awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the importance of taking action and how horrible such violence is. The website is whatwouldyoudo.ie and is costing €950,000 over a six-year period, in which time it will aim to raise awareness and to emphasise that we have to stop this behaviour. All of us have a role to play, whether elected or non-elected. It is equally important to put in place extra supports so that women are empowered to come forward to speak of their own experience. I commend in Edel House in Cork, which does Trojan work helping people and their families to emerge from the shadow and the darkness of domestic violence.
The new domestic violence Bill is at an advanced stage and the Minister is committed to it. The public consultation period has closed and the Minister spoke at the launch of the campaign this morning of the impact the Bill have in improving access to barring orders. It will also provide greater support for victims in the courts process in the shape of things such as court accompaniment. It is important that this House, in tandem with the Minister and those working in the area of sexual and domestic violence, sends a strong message that we will not tolerate it. We must all work together to promote a proactive campaign which will be of value to women and children who wish to speak out.
I also acknowledge the president of AILG, Councillor Pat Daly, and past president John Crowe, who are in the Visitors Gallery. I commend them on the work they are doing in respect of local councils.
Senator Craughwell raised the Social Welfare Bill. I am glad he jumped the gun a couple of months ago when he complained that Fine Gael Senators had met the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. I welcome the engagement of the Minister with the civic engagement group and with Members of the House on the Social Welfare Bill. It is important that PRSI contributions and classes of pension entitlements for councillors and citizens are taken on board.
Senator Devine raised the issue of mental health as well as domestic violence. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Helen McEntee, has launched an initiative in this regard, which is a step in the right direction.
As noted by Senator McFadden, A Vision for Change is the bible from which we work. It obviously needs to be updated, progressed and evolved into a living document in which one can see improvements. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House in this regard.
Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Frank Feighan raised the issue of the election of Mr. Trump to the presidency of the United States. As Leader of the House, I was present last week in the United States. It is fair to say that those who know me would say that I would not subscribe to the politics of the President-elect or the Vice President-elect, Mr. Pence. As a democrat, one lives by the ballot box and accepts the democratic decision of the people. In the case of America, the people voted and made a decision. We might not like it and might be disappointed with the result. I have very strong reservations about some of the policies and statements he espouses but we have a duty to work with the new President to protect and preserve jobs in our country and ensure that those of us of a different viewpoint educate him and highlight the need for work to continue on human and LGBT rights and on employment and the rights of workers, not just in the United States but across the world.
Like Senator Feighan, I believe we should give the man a chance and work with him to ensure he becomes President and has an opportunity to govern. After that, it is our duty, whether in respect of Syria, relations with Russia or immigrants and immigration, to promulgate our viewpoints. Those who support boycotting him or protesting should remember that the American people made a democratic decision which we must respect even if we might not like it. Those of us who stand for election in this country might not like the decision of the electorate, but one has to accept it. That is what democracy is about, namely, the sovereign will of the people. The vote of a billionaire is equal to the vote of a person with no money. That is the way it should be. Whether the electoral college system in America is changed is a different matter and not one for this Chamber. I hope that the President-elect is given the opportunity to take office and that those of us who are committed to a fairer and more just world with engage with him, will not be afraid to highlight our views and will not stand idly by if we disagree with some of his decisions or comments.
Senators Higgins and Coffey referred to climate change. Today, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is in Marrakesh at the UN Convention. I am sure he will come to the House. He spoke about Ireland reducing its carbon footprint and the importance of taking our responsibilities seriously. Senator Coffey is correct. Penalties are being imposed on Ireland and we must live up to our responsibilities. Equally, there are those who oppose everything, whether it is wind farms or solar energy. We need to have a national conversation on how we can reduce our carbon footprint. We also need to ensure that renewable energies can be delivered. There is an economic challenge in that regard. Building from the Paris Agreement of 12 months ago, it is also important that we take our responsibilities seriously, not just for ourselves but for future generations so they have an environment that is presentable and habitable. It is a duty to which we have to live up.
Senator Davitt referred to cybercrime, which, as he said, is increasing. I have been informed that additional staff will be allocated to the computer crime investigation unit under the Garda national fraud bureau. I accept his point that staff numbers were reduced from 31 to 29. It is important that the numbers increase.
Senator Landy referred to Brexit, its impact on the agrifood industry and the importance of working with SMEs. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to deal with that issue.
Senators Landy, Coghlan, Wilson, Ned O'Sullivan, Feighan, Richmond, Boyhan and Craughwell referred to the Rugby World Cup. It is important that we welcome the support of all sporting organisations and sections of Irish industry for the proposal to host the tournament. As I said yesterday, it is important that we support the 2023 bid. Great credit is due to Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, of which I am a member, for having the foresight, under the presidency of Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP, to change rule 42.
It is great that we speak of an Ireland where we are rushing to welcome the Rugby World Cup to stadiums like those in Thurles, Breffni Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Nowlan Park, Croke Park or whatever. I was not a party to the decision to exclude Thurles. All I can say to those who are of the sporting mentality is that it is a fantastic stadium. I heard some commentary on the radio today about access from the main Cork to Dublin road. I am very happy to travel to and from Thurles. It is not that bad of a journey. Those who said it was a difficulty are misguided.
Senator Coghlan referred to Fitzgerald Stadium. Having been there on many occasions for the defeat of the team I support, I am not sure whether it should be included. I am joking.
The Leader is entitled to a joke.
Fitzgerald Stadium is one of the most scenic and picturesque grounds in the country. I had the pleasure of doing local radio commentary there and was able to look across at beauty's home. Those who are from Cork would prefer to come out of there with happier memories than in the recent past. It is important that those who support the bid for the Rugby World Cup get behind it and that those who are in charge of the bid, including the former Tánaiste, Dick Spring, who is the chairman, consider the example of Thurles and Breffni Park and perhaps include them on the list of stadiums.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of Mary Immaculate College. I would be happy for the Minister to examine the issue.
Senator Richmond referred to ongoing Russian activities in Syria and Ukraine. It is a source of concern and the Senator is right to raise the issue. Equally worrying are the comments from Syria about working with the President-elect of America. It is a significant worry for me. It is important that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, comes to the House to outline the issue regarding the digital hub and to clarify remarks that have been made.
Senators Wilson, Conway-Walsh, Ned O'Sullivan and Coffey referred to railways. The Minister, Deputy Ross, will come before the House today. Public transport is an important issue. We must learn from the past. Irish Rail is not Dublin-centric rail; it is Irish Rail. As Mr. Kenny said today on a number of news channels, it is important to recognise that Irish Rail receives its revenue from ticket sales and a subvention from the Government. In budget 2017, over €50 million was allocated in additional funding, bringing its funding to over €300 million for 2017. It is important that we increase investment in the maintenance and renewal of the network and rolling stock. Senator Conway referred to Ennis and I will return to that point.
It is also important that we consider how we make sure that people use our rail network. I recall the west Cork to Cork city rail line. If it was still in place it would be busy, as are the lines from Cork to Cobh and Midleton. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. I wish to stress to Members that the purpose of the review that has been published is to open a public discussion about the role of our railways, their funding and provide factual material to inform the discussion. No decision has been made. It is important that the Minister, Deputy Ross, hears what Members have to say today.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to the west. As far as I know, no decisions have been made to close any railway lines. What has been published is simply a discussion document.
Senator Wilson referred to the Youthreach programme. It is a major advantage to our education system and community services. I commend all those who are involved.
Senator McFadden referred to mental health services for adults and children. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House.
Senator Boyhan also raised transport issues. It is important that we discuss drug trials in residential institutions and homes. I would be happy to discuss the issue with him and see how we can bring about a unified approach. People's lives were interfered with and they were not given proper information or due respect. They were treated very badly by the State and it is important that we continue to raise the issue.
The Senator is right, in that these serious allegations require further investigation.
Senators Gavan and Colm Burke referred to the Lansdowne Road agreement. It is important that we put matters in context and root ourselves in reality. Sometimes, Sinn Féin's economic proposals are voodoo economics.
No, they are not.
We do not call for tax cuts.
We will not take that insult anymore.
We are proud of our proposals.
It was not an insult at all.
It was an insult.
I was not insulting Sinn Féin.
The Government has been using it for years.
Respect the Chair.
The Government has been using it for years. It is a bit tiresome now. This is the same old record.
All I can say is that the Sinn Féin Party is a high tax party.
Yes. We rightly focus on-----
It abdicates its responsibility to the common-----
It is a tax-and-spend party.
-----public services. No privatisation.
The irony of it is that-----
You are a record. Get over it.
-----Sinn Féin refused to go into government in the South and sat on its hands. It is above-----
We were not asked.
It is good at abdicating responsibility, in fairness.
We were not asked.
Through the Chair, please.
The reality is-----
We would not touch Fine Gael with a barge pole.
I understand that the Leader is about to finish.
I am. The reality is that-----
You cannot let him get away with that.
The Senator has made her point.
-----the Sinn Féin Party in the North of our country-----
You are very interested in Sinn Féin today. A lot of you are, actually.
I am replying-----
It is because I mentioned Eoin O'Duffy yesterday. They are still bitter.
Senators, allow the Leader to conclude.
I am replying to the Order of Business. That is the task I am required to do at the end of the Order of Business. The one thing that someone learns in government, and the Senator can ask her colleagues in the North-----
Do not shake your finger at me and lecture me, please. I would rather you not do that.
If the Senator would do me the courtesy of listening, please. I listened to her.
Yes, but I did not do this.
Do me the courtesy of-----
Leader and Senators, please-----
The Taoiseach is very fond of that. Do not copy him, please.
-----respect the Chair. Speak through the Chair and not to each other.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.
If the Senators continue this, I will suspend the House for 20 minutes.
Sinn Féin cannot be a catch-all party. It cannot say one thing to one group and another thing to another group and pretend that everything will be okay. That is not what government is about.
We did not do that.
The important point-----
On a point of order, the Leader is saying that we are double speaking. That is untrue.
The point is made.
Regarding the public service wage bill, the Minister is correct. We need to take a collective approach to public sector pay. We should not, and cannot, pit private against public. All Senators recognise the considerable contribution that public servants have made to the recovery of our country and the hardship that they had to endure. We must be fair to everyone, and the Government is committed to doing so.
We need an early date for the talks.
Senator Swanick raised a health issue. A worrying development, it needs to be addressed. I would be happy to ask the Minister to attend the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Colm Burke discussed local authorities, value for money reports and audit reports. I would be happy to ask the Minister to attend to discuss that matter.
Senator Butler raised the issue of Remembrance Day. The ceremonies last weekend were about remembering the men of our country who went to fight in the First World War and should not be used as a political football about the legacies of the past.
I am not pointing at the Members opposite, but they should reflect on their party's legacy in parts of our country. Let us not have that debate today, though. It was held yesterday.
It is not nonsense.
It is tiresome.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to transport. He was right about theatre and drama. I happened to be in the Provincetown Theatre at the weekend to see Mr. Brian Merriman's play about 1916, "Eirebrushed", which involved Mr. Frank McGuinness. It was a joy to watch. I commend all of those involved in our arts community. We should welcome, encourage and foster the writing and production of new plays.
Senator Lombard raised the important issue of Cork marts no longer engaging in the live export of cattle. This will have a profound impact. It is concerning, not least because we must ensure that the food chain has quality of supply. I would be happy to ask the Minister to attend on this issue.
Senator Conway referred to accessibility. It is disappointing to note that some rail stations have no accessibility, for example, lifts for people who require assistance. I would be happy to have the Minister take the matter up with the Senator.
Order of Business agreed to.