The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.
Order of Business
I refer to the lack of protection for private defined benefit pension schemes, particularly the Independent News & Media, INM, pension scheme dispute. Last week the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, sought legal advice from the Attorney General in an effort to intervene in the dispute. It was a very admirable move by the Minister who said: "I have asked the Attorney General if I can intervene on behalf of the public interest in this case to essentially ask the courts to do what was done previously in relation to Aer Lingus, for example, where the company would have to engage and negotiate with the trustees before going ahead with this." Today I ask the Minister to be a super-hero again in this House where he will actually have an opportunity to bring forward legislation to protect defined benefit pension schemes. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has tabled an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill which was previously tabled by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil and the Seanad to prohibit the closure of a defined benefit pension scheme, except where it has reached a minimum funding figure of 90%. The amendment has been ruled out of order. However, I call on the Minister to support a Bill that will be tabled by Fianna Fáil very early in the new year which will reflect the body of that motion. I ask him to make a very firm commitment that he will support the Bill which will deal with the protection of defined benefit pension schemes before any more are closed. This is a matter which needs to be addressed promptly.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 15, Mental Health (Amendment) 2016, be taken before No. 1.
Ba mhaith liom dea-scéal a chéiliúradh i dtosach báire. I welcome the announcement yesterday and the information that followed it that Kleber Silva Medeiros, for whom we had campaigned in the Houses, was to be allowed to return home after the deportation order against him had been revoked.
I thank the Members of the Houses and the Leader for intervening, as well as the Minister for allowing and making this happen. At a further date, we can examine why it happened, but today it is great news for him and his wife, Harriet Bruce. Itinerary permitting, it is hoped he will be able to travel home for Christmas.
We have been proved right that we were being sold a pig in a poke when we debated the issue of rent certainty in the House in recent weeks. There was an awful lot of talk and we were told to wait to see the rental strategy as it was going to solve all the problems and that the Government would tackle all the issues in the rental sector. We argued vehemently that we did not have faith in it and, on an initial reading of the strategy for the rental sector, I am afraid my fears have been realised. Rather than putting a brake on rent increases, the document will allow landlords to increase rents by 4% every year for the next three years. At the core of the strategy is a guaranteed rent increase of 12% over three years. That will continue to heap more pressure on struggling renters and lock low income families and single people out of the rental market. Thanks to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, a family renting an average home in Dublin at €1,500 a month will pay an additional €4,500 in rent in the next three years. In Cork city families will be out of pocket by an extra €3,200 over the same period. For those living outside these so-called rent pressure zones, rents will continue to rise. As I have constantly intimated to the Minister, the latest quarterly rental report for daft.ie shows that tenants in Galway city face an average annual rent increase of 10.9%. In Limerick it was even higher, at 13.2%. The rental strategy will do nothing for those in Galway who are struggling with their rents. When debating legislation on the matter recently, Fianna Fáil stated it would revisit the issue if the Minister did not deal with it in a meaningful way. It will be time to do so if the legislation to enable the rental strategy is brought before the Houses in the next week or so. I hope Fianna Fáil will be on side with us. We need to discuss these issues with all parties and groupings across the Houses to ensure proper rent certainty is introduced.
I welcome the efforts made by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katharine Zappone, for the refugee children being brought here. However, she also has a crisis on her own doorstep in the context of the child care regulations to be introduced in January, but she is burying her head in the sand. I have been inundated with calls from centres that may well have to close down because they will not be able to comply with the regulations within the time specified. Workers who have been working in services for years may have to relinquish their jobs because they do not have FETAC level 5 qualifications, which will be required. It is totally and utterly impractical to expect this measure to be implemented in January. In Gaeltacht areas it is even more difficult because they are looking for people with Irish to fill positions. Furthermore, wages in the sector are one of the reasons it is so difficult to find staff as it is. We need an urgent response from the Minister. She needs to rethink what she wants to impose from January onwards because it simply will not work. It will put people out of business and close down services.
I welcome today's announcement of the rental strategy and commend the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government for delivering it before the end of the fourth quarter, as promised. As referenced by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, we all know that it is a really important strategy. One in five now lives in rented accommodation and depends on us, legislators, to regulate and manage the sector effectively. I look forward to examining how the proposals included in the strategy measure up in terms of rent certainty, security of tenure, supply, standards, services, the new rent pressure zones and how they will work, the tenancy in situ arrangements, the increased number of inspections and the commitment to create longer tenancies with the end goal of creating tenancies of indefinite duration. Like most things, the devil will be in the detail. I would welcome an opportunity to have a debate on the detail of the rental strategy as soon as possible. In particular, I would like to cross-reference the strategy against submissions made by civil society groups such as Threshold, Simon Communities, Uplift and others. I would be grateful to the Leader if he were to invite the Minister to the House for such a debate.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue of fossil fuel divestment.
One year on from the historic Paris agreement on climate change I am delighted to say yesterday Trinity College Dublin became the first university in Ireland to sign up to fossil fuel divestments following a 15-month student campaign, Fossil Free TCD, and that the college will now sell up to €6 million worth of investments in oil companies as part of a global movement for divestments in fossil fuels. Some 677 institutions have pledged to divest from fossil fuels as part of a major global divest-invest campaign. I was delighted to join some of the students from the Fossil Free TCD campaign and the students' union earlier today outside Leinster House to highlight the campaign. We had a debate on climate change last week and will have a series of statements on climate change, but I would like us to examine fossil fuel divestment which can play a major part in resolving issues surrounding climate change. I commend Trinity College Dublin and all of those involved in the campaign for signing up to this. It is to be hoped other universities and institutions throughout the country will follow.
I also welcome the publication of the House of Lords' report yesterday on UK-Irish relations after Brexit. It is worthwhile and welcome to see it placing such a priority on the need to ensure preservation of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process and making the key point that Northern Ireland must not be relegated to a mean bargaining chip in tough negotiations between Britain and the European Union. It is a very welcome report which makes some sensible proposals about how best to ensure a soft border will be maintained on the island after Brexit. I had the pleasure earlier of meeting Hilary Benn, MP, who is the chairperson of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee and will speak at a Labour Party seminar today as part of an ongoing process of an examination of and discussion on Brexit. We will discuss the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I would welcome a debate and discussion at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how the Seanad could best play a role in the negotiations on Brexit and have an input into the process.
I note the appalling situation in eastern Aleppo. There are reports of brutalities and at least 82 civilians have been killed. Some 11 women and 13 children were shot as they tried to flee from a brutal Syrian and Russian Government bombardment of eastern Aleppo. The United Nations has called it a complete meltdown of humanity. I have called many times for a debate on the situation in Aleppo and Syria and the House unanimously passed a motion condemning the bombardment of Aleppo, with which I went to the Russian ambassador. We questioned the Russian ambassador and pro-Syrian regime representatives who came before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. The latest carnage we are seeing in eastern Aleppo is appalling. We may see an endgame, where the moderate secular opposition will be entirely wiped out in Syria. It is distressing to see what is happening. I ask that we have a debate on the matter in early course.
I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, on the Shannon Estuary drive following calls from me for the inclusion of Limerick in the Wild Atlantic Way. I am glad that the Minister has announced the initiative. It will be a touring route and a pilot scheme will be run in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland. It will involve an inland visitor experience. It is linked from Foynes which is already on the Wild Atlantic Way to Killimer, County Clare. It will benefit small businesses and the hospitality and tourism industry. The initiative also ties in with the timely announcement by Paul O'Connell of rugby fame on his appointment to head the new interactive rugby museum on the main street in Limerick. Limerick is synonymous with sport and tourism. That these initiatives have been announced at the same time is very positive. I welcome both and hope they will work together in attracting tourists to our streets.
I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to address the shortage of substitute primary teachers in primary schools. School principals are reporting that they are finding it increasingly difficult to get substitute teachers on a short or long-term basis. Last week a number of principals highlighted that, in seeking maternity leave cover, some 25 texts had been sent, but, apparently, only one reply was received. Another principal said that when a request was sent for maternity leave cover, no one responded to the advertisement.
Last summer a firm recruiting teaching staff for Dubai recruited 50 primary schoolteachers in one hour. They were offered lucrative contracts in Dubai for two years, including paying for rent. That is what we are competing against. It is a serious issue that we need to address. I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Education and Skills the number of substitute teachers available. There are indications that the figure could be as low as 50. What plans, if any, does the Minister have to address the issue in order that it will not become a serious problem?
I join Senator Ivana Bacik in congratulating the British House of Lords on an excellent report on Brexit and UK-Irish relations which makes some excellent suggestions. For those who have not read the report, I recommend that they do. I was somewhat disappointed as I felt more people would have been interested in meeting the delegation from the House of Lords. I understand they had bilateral meetings with political parties yesterday. I was delighted to be with Senators Neale Richmond and Paul Coghlan in meeting Lord Jay. What the House of Lords has done is extremely important. It has put itself out front and centre, showing concern for the relationship between our two islands, which is vital. That matter needs to be followed up rapidly. They would probably welcome some more interaction between this House and the House of Lords, something we should consider in the not too distant future.
Senator Ivana Bacik also referred to the situation in Aleppo. Every few days or weeks we hear something about Aleppo. When we go home and switch on the television, we look at rubble, which is all that is left of that city, and talk about the horror of it. Does anybody really give a continental damn? It seems to be caught in the middle of a political argument between the great powers and nobody seems to care. When I look at what is there, one would not put children out to play in it. However, children have to be brought up and educated in it and hospitals are trying to run in it. I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik that we should have a debate in this House, but I would invite the Russian ambassador to sit in on it as a guest in the House to hear what is being said because clearly he is not listening. We might also get the US ambassador to sit beside him and get them all to listen to what is being said. Somewhere along the line the message is falling on deaf ears.
I welcome last week's report from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the impact of a potential nuclear accident at the Sellafield plant. The report outlined four scenarios, with an estimated loss to this country of between €4 billion to €161 billion. In the worst case scenario the impacts would extend to 60 years, although the most substantial economic impacts would arise in the first 30 years. Four new plants are set to come on stream in Britain. I have done some homework on them and if any of the Senators is interested, I have maps showing where they will be located. The development at Hinkley Point on the Celtic Sea has been given planning permission. There is one in Oldbury, one in Wales, Heysham and Sellafield. Chinese investors and French companies are involved in a €16 billion investment. The British taxpayer is looking for cheap electricity. It looks like Montgomery Burns in Britain because it is all about the shareholder, not the people. We need the Minister to come to the House for a debate on what the Government is doing. Is it monitoring the position, including the security issues? The British Government has failed to come up to scratch when it comes to the Sellafield plant and in the process is badly letting down the Irish people.
We have a huge issue with four new plants coming on stream. There are seven new nuclear plants in France, four of which are up and running, with the other three to come online in the near future. They are in our back garden and there they are for everybody to see. What are we doing about it? We have to go over and see what is going on and have our input. As far as I can see, we are doing nothing about it. The problem is being hidden away. Do we start to go back and issue iodine tablets again? We have seen the destruction the Sellafield plant has wreaked on the Irish Sea. Certain areas were decimated when all of that poison was leaked into the Irish Sea. Let us not make the same mistakes again. Let us go and see what is going on.
Ireland's reputation as a country that facilitated - yes, I use the dreaded words - tax avoidance on a grand scale over successive decades was brought back to the fore in recent days with the publication of a report by Oxfam. We have to get real on this issue. The poverty rates and inequality we have allowed to develop in our society can never be addressed as long as we continue to allow companies to avoid tax on such a grand scale. The Government, through the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has totally rejected these findings, as has the Department of Finance. They have stated that, as a country, we did not meet any of the international standards to be considered a tax haven and that our corporation tax rate and incentives do not make the country a tax haven. That is fine and we would expect nothing else. However, it does not mean that we have to agree with such sentiments. We certainly and absolutely do not agree with them. Sinn Féin has questioned the tax collection methods for corporation tax for years. The so-called double Irish was closed because of massive pressure internationally, in particular from the European Union. We were then able to come up with a replacement scheme in the knowledge box. We should be charging the applicable rate of corporation tax in its entirety and ending poverty in this country. I can anticipate the response from the Leader. He will say we are ruining Ireland's reputation, are anti-jobs and always negative. I will write the script for him.
I thank the Senator very much. I will not bother to reply to her.
There have been too many question marks surrounding tax collection for years, most recently in the case of Apple. Sometimes, one just has to call a spade a spade. I am calling for a debate on the findings of the Oxfam report and how we can go about collecting the effective rate of corporation tax, with zero reductions. Citizens deserve it.
I want to highlight two issues quickly, but before doing so, I note that I was disappointed our amendment to the Social Welfare Bill which we will discuss later was ruled out of order. It is a missed opportunity. I urge the Leader to engage with the Minister for Social Protection to ensure he is proposing some solid and meaningful alternative way to take action in the case of Independent News & Media on the specific issue of its pension funds. While I know that we will have the opportunity to debate that issue properly later, an opportunity has been missed and we will certainly be expecting a very solid and clear message from the Minister when he attends the House later.
I was very happy to be part of the fossil-free divestment moment outside the Houses of the Oireachtas today. It is becoming a burning issue and very important. While Trinity College Dublin has moved ahead with divestment, I am happy to see that NUIG has also made a commitment to divest from over €3 million in stocks it holds in fossil fuels. I commend the fossil-free NUIG campaign for driving it.
On the question of the environment and climate change, when the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, attended the House a few weeks ago, he was asked about his plans for cycling in Dublin and the national cycling strategy. We now know that Dublin has won the opportunity to host Velo-city, the largest international conference globally on cycling.
It is a key opportunity. Therefore, I urge the Leader to ensure that when the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport comes to talk to the House about his commitments related to climate change, he will make sure cycling is specifically addressed.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission-----
I will let the Senator in, but-----
It is simply one sentence.
When a Member other than the leader of a group stands up, he or she can only raise one issue. Senators frequently break that rule and go on about other issues. The Senator spent one minute talking about debate and ran out of time. If she is very brief, I will let her in, but in the future, I cannot do so. She should remember that she cannot be the second speaker and the leader at the same time. I must have rules.
On a point of order, when was the rule that a Senator could only raise one topic introduced?
It has always been in place.
No, it has not.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges passed it the last time and my predecessor enforced it.
I will be very brief. It is a matter of some urgency. I am simply asking that in reflection of the motion on the situation in Aleppo that was passed unanimously in this House, the Leader remind the Government of the motion and urge it to take immediate action to press for a ceasefire. I know that we have talked about a debate. We have seen those on the ground who called for a three-day ceasefire now call for a three-hour ceasefire to ensure extraordinarily vulnerable citizens will have an opportunity to get out and access safety. The issue is urgent. I would love it if the Leader reported back - perhaps even tomorrow - on whether the Government had been able to reflect the motion by pressing for a ceasefire wherever possible.
I also welcome the report by the House of Lords on the implications of Brexit. It is fascinating that it was announced simultaneously in Dublin and the United Kingdom. It argues that the British political establishment misunderstands the nature of free trade and overstates the negotiating position of the United Kingdom. It also argues that it is a huge challenge for Ireland, the peace process and the special nature of UK-Irish relations. We must welcome the report and thank the committee for being as generous as it was. It has looked for bilateral talks with the Irish Government. I do not think this can be done on a formal basis, but they certainly need to be agreed to by the European Union. We have come a long way in the past 40 years and can now have open debate, dialogue and conversations. I agree with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. This House should do a lot more in forging relationships with all of the parliaments on the islands of Ireland and Great Britain because we have done so through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It is generous, open and the way forward. Once again, we must ensure there is a special solution for the special nature of UK-Irish relations.
Will the Leader consider arranging debates on non-Government motions Nos. 9 and 11? They concern the massacre of people in Iran in 1988. I think there was general agreement in the House that this was an important issue.
I return to the issue raised by Senator Máire Devine, namely, the Oxfam report released yesterday. It is a devastating report because it exposes the world's worst tax havens. Ireland is at No. 6, which is staggering. When one considers that developing countries lose out on $100 billion annually, it is pretty serious. Countries like Ireland provide incentives and loopholes for multinational corporations in a way that is extremely damaging. There are two main reasons Ireland is on the list. First, it facilitates large-scale corporate tax avoidance and, second, it has not implemented effective rules to prevent this from happening. The allowance of inward profit sharing by US multinational corporations is worth an estimated €93 billion in excess profits.
That is an extraordinary figure and we are allowing this issue to go on under the guise of silence. In addition, Ireland has produced no data or research to demonstrate it has made any effective attempt to address this situation. It has also failed to support country by country reporting through the European Union. That would make a huge difference because multinational corporations produce a global account system that does not indicate the countries in which the profits are actually generated. They are then chiselled out of their due rights. I put this in the context of the statement made by the Taoiseach on 7 September this year that we are a strong supporter of tax transparency, that administrative co-operation is a key factor in tackling the global problems of tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning and that the core principle underpinning this work is that tax should be paid where economic activity takes place. I agree absolutely, but let us see some action on it. These are fine words, but the behaviour of the Government contradicts them. If we are cleaner than clean, why is it that Brazil has ruled that Ireland is a very low tax or no-tax country? This effectively adds us to those countries on its tax haven black list. This is a very important matter that deserves discussion in Seanad Éireann.
I know that the Leader has a motion on Thursday, but we are coming to the end of our session and I want to know when the next Stage of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill will be taken. I understand time has been set aside until midnight for the meeting of the select committee of the Dáil, which is not a matter for us and it is ongoing. More than 180 amendments have been tabled. There is a very tight timeframe for how we will do our business to complete the process next week. The Bill is due to come back to the Seanad next Tuesday. Will the Leader tease out what will happen? I am led to believe from my contacts that it will be very difficult to turn around the amendments and have a report ready for us for next Tuesday. There is a timeframe and it may mean that the Seanad will need to meet next Wednesday; I do not know. It would be helpful were the Leader to address these details tomorrow. There is an awful lot of work to be done. I understand the Department and the officials expect to come here and there will be further amendments. We need a passage of time to see how it will spin out in the coming days.
The documentary broadcast last night, "The Crossing", did a very good job in showing how the Naval Service and the Defence Forces worked to save lives, as well as their dedication and commitment to their job. They work very much as a team to ensure the maximum number of people can be saved in their rescue missions in the Mediterranean. I also compliment the producers of the programme. It is a huge lesson for all of us about the difficulties of people who are forced to take very dangerous craft to try to get a better way of living and live in a safer jurisdiction. My compliments to everyone involved.
We have a major problem in the private nursing home sector. In the public sector the cost was allowed to increase by 13% over a five-year period, but in the private sector, an increase of 1.7% only has been allowed in the amount paid by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. There is no right of appeal once the figure is set for a nursing home bed. There is also a major problem, whereby the HSE is recruiting people from private nursing homes and offering them packages the private sector cannot afford to pay.
In the public sector HSE nursing homes cost €1,700 per bed, whereas the NTPF is paying as little as €800 per week in the private sector. This major issue must be examined. Will the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister and arrange for a debate on it?
I second Senator Joan Freeman's proposed amendment to the Order of Business that the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - First Stage be taken before No. 1
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to the House to discuss Coillte's discontinuation of the Compass Club afternoon courses? This issue was highlighted today by-----
I am sorry, but will the Senator repeat what he said, please?
The Compass Club afterschool courses. The matter was highlighted on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme today. It was a worthwhile exercise on the part of that show. The clubs which are organised by Coillte allow young people aged between six and 12 years to study nature, wildlife and forestry. An educational programme, it has been operated by experienced people after school. As and from the end of December, however, the Compass Club afterschool courses will be dropped. They give children a foundation in outdoor skills and activities, running one day per week over six weeks. Courses are available throughout the school year; therefore, if a child misses one, another will start. Someone from Killarney National Park spoke on today's programme. Senator Paul Coghlan might be aware of him. The man was 67 years of age and delighted to get the opportunity in September to work with and help young children, but he received a telephone call on Friday to tell him that the programme had been discontinued. We gave 600,000 ha of countryside to Coillte. It is a poor excuse to blame the programme's discontinuation on Brexit export issues. A PR company sent a message to "Liveline", but that company will get more money than the whole programme would have absorbed. This is a Scrooge-type operation ahead of Christmas. It is unfair. Coillte is a semi-State company that has our land. I call on the Leader to take up the issue on behalf of the young children of Ireland who are interested in the programme.
I refer to the situation in Yemen where every ten minutes a child dies of starvation and 400,000 children are facing that stark fate in the coming months. Ten thousand people have been killed in the civil war. We are playing our part in that war. We helped to bring cluster bombs - imagine that - through Shannon Airport to Saudi Arabia in November 2014. IThe Government's information confirmed this in the reply to a freedom of information request. A total of 272 flights with various materiel, including bombs, were permitted to pass through Shannon Airport in 2014. I am glad to say the Government has since taken decisive action, in that it has decided not to release information now. Let us call a spade a spade. I concur with those who express concern about the situation in Aleppo. As for inviting the Russian ambassador to Leinster House, however, we are in no position to talk while we are supporting the bombing of men, women and children in Yemen on a daily basis through the use of Shannon Airport. Are we pretending it it is not happening? I would like to hear from other Senators in the Chamber. It should not just be Sinn Féin raising this topic.
It is not. I have called for the establishment of an inquiry into the use of Shannon Airport.
I apologise. The Senator has been strong on the issue.
It has been raised at the foreign affairs committee many times.
Given that the Labour Party, in particular, recognised that there was a problem at Shannon Airport five years ago and had the issue incorporated in the programme for Government, I do not understand the silence on that front. During its five years in government there was silence on the use of Shannon Airport. It is time we all faced up to our responsibilities in that regard. We can have no credibility talking about the situation in Aleppo until we tackle the elephant in the room and confront the fact that, according to the Government's figures, cluster bombs were transferred through Shannon Airport.
Therefore, I am calling for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House. I have been calling for that consistently week after week. I hope he will come in as soon as possible after Christmas in order that we can debate the issue and hear what everyone has to say.
I, too, add my voice of support in respect of the House of Lords European affairs committee's report, Brexit: UK-Irish Relations. I was delighted yesterday, with colleagues, to meet Lord Michael Jay and his colleagues and to have met Lord Tim Boswell, chairman of the committee, some time ago when he visited us. They also visited in the course of their talks in Northern Ireland in Belfast and consulted rather widely. They also consulted two former Taoisigh who I gather were very helpful to them. The key point is this is a useful and positive report. The committee has shown great interest and understanding, I might say, of our situation vis-à-vis the North and the various agreements and how we must protect all that is involved, which has also been embodied in European law. We are virtually on the same page as them, but it is also very important at this time and will be in the future because there will be many more developments and twists on the road before Article 50 is invoked by the British, not least the Supreme Court judgment to come in January. I am very much of the view offered previously by Senator Ivana Bacik. I appeal to the Leader to pursue this matter further at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because it behoves us to have continuing contact with that committee - this House with that House - to advance matters further. I accept that lawfully, under standing agreements, we cannot negotiate separately or make arrangements bilaterally until the button has been pressed, that is, when Article 50 is invoked. However, there is nothing to prevent us from continuing to do good work behind the scenes in order that, I hope, when the time comes and we are formally engaged in negotiations, the European Union will be able to give its blessing, if not fully, then at least substantially, to what is in the best interests of Ireland and Britain, in particular the island of Ireland.
I note that over the weekend there was talk again about draining the River Shannon, which is wonderful, but I would like to have a debate in the new year about the Shannon Estuary. I seek a wide comprehensive debate on the estuary and its pivotal role in the infrastructure of the mid-west region and especially its key role in ensuring energy security in the country. I have raised this issue ad nauseam. Members are sick of me talking about it, but we have had some of the most successful industries along the estuary, including the Aughinish Alumina plant in Foynes, the Tarbert power station and the Moneypoint power station, but very little has happened in the past decade, apart from a lot of talk and political promises made on all sides. People are now fairly sick of it. There is a major project in the offing, of which the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is very well aware. In fairness to him, he has taken a good interest in it and has received a number of delegations from the community, business interests and foreign investors on a liquified natural gas project which I mentioned previously in the House. I ask the Leader to investigate the possibility of moving the issue forward in the House. It is something that would be of interest, in particular to Members from counties Galway, Clare, Kerry and Limerick - the entire mid-west. Something fruitful could emerge in the near future.
I thank the 19 Senators who spoke for their contributions on the Order of Business. The opening contribution was from Senator Catherine Ardagh on the INM defined pension scheme. We are all united on the need to take a common approach to the issue and the events that have occurred which have left many of us aghast. The reality is that it is a private pension scheme, in which the Minister has no direct role, but he has asked the Attorney General for advice on the matter. He has also met the chairperson of the Pensions Authority to discuss defined benefit schemes. What is disappointing is that even if action can be taken, it cannot have retrospective effect, which is a worry.
The standard model about which some have been speaking does not necessarily do what one wants it to do. Having spoken to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and his departmental officials, I know that they are anxious to try to do something. It is a matter of whether it can be done.
I am sorry that Senator Alice-Mary Higgins is no longer present. I am disappointed that she has left the Chamber. To be fair, she should be here, like other Senators who raised matters on the Order of Business. The amendment to which she referred was not ruled out of order by the Leader. It was ruled out of order because it was not in order and the Senator was given the reason. It was not a decision taken by the Leader.
It was fairly specious.
There are higher beings than us who make decisions.
There are no higher beings than Members of Seanad Éireann.
They are positively angelic.
Seraphims and Senators. It is in the Bible.
Le do thoil.
It would be better if we left it in the hands of others. However, the amendment was not ruled out of order by me, although that impression was given. It was ruled out of order by others in authority. I respect and accept their decision. We should all work together to ensure we find a solution to the vexing issue, with which we are all unhappy and uncomfortable.
Without being rude to the Leader, I wish to raise a point of order.
I am interested in the point of order the Senator wishes to raise.
On this occasion, it is a point of order. Will the Chair remind the Leader that it is regarded as inappropriate to refer to the absence of a Senator which he did in a marked fashion? There may very well be a good reason such as having to take an emergency telephone call.
That is not a point of order.
I would like it to be noted that I am now present in the Chamber.
The Senator is one of the Members who does not-----
I left the Chamber for two minutes.
It was not marked. It is a very important matter and to be fair, I was not singling anybody out. I do not mean to be pompous, but every day one sits through the Order of Business and may discover that some of the 19 Senators who have spoken have left. There can be genuine reasons, but if a Member raises a matter on the Order of Business, the least he or she can do is wait for the reply at the end of it.
I was here for almost all of the Order of Business. I left the Chamber for two minutes.
Let us move on.
I want the position to be clarified.
Let me make it quite clear that I was not referring to anybody in particular, but the Senator raised the Independent News & Media issue.
The Leader was entitled to mention it. He could have ignored it. There was a ruling by the last Leader of the House that if Senators raised an issue on the Order of Business and left, it would be ignored. The Leader did not say it in a defamatory way.
I did not say it at all.
My remarks were not in any way defamatory of the Leader. I was only acknowledging regret about the decision made, while not attributing it to the Leader.
The Senator has made her point.
Senator Joan Freeman made a request. I will be happy to accept her amendment to the Order of Business, for which I thank her.
We all join Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh in congratulating the Medeiros family and welcoming the good news of Kleber's impending return. It shows the importance of highlighting the humanity of a story. It is a lesson for all of us that the people we meet in our constituency offices have genuine cases, although some may not. In this case, however, it was genuine, as the Minister, or whoever made the decision, recognised. I commend the Senator and the Minister for the decision taken.
On the rental strategy, this is an important day. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will be back in the House with the Bill. The strategy to ensure rent certainty recognises that the rental market is not delivering, either for tenants or landlords. Therefore, we need a strong and viable rental market for those who want to rent and to provide landlords with a secure investment environment. The Minister's decision is based on a number of objectives, including the provision of security, ensuring greater tenure, rent certainty, supply, standards and services and broadening the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board. The Minister has done a lot of good work, for which he should be commended.
As regards rent pressure zones in Dublin and Cork, annual increases have been above 7% in the past year or 18 months.
It is the same in Galway.
What is the Minister going to do in Galway?
The Senator can make the case for Galway to the Minister when he comes into the House.
Will he be here before Christmas?
Please allow the Leader to respond.
Sometimes I wonder if Members read schedules at all? The Senator knows full well that the Minister will be back before the House.
Perhaps if the Senator attempted not to make snide remarks and play the political game, he might achieve better results, rather than going the old Sinn Féin way.
Is that results for landlords?
I know that the Senator does not want to go down the old ways of Sinn Féin and that he is trying to come to new ways.
The Leader is talking nonsense.
It is a chest infection.
He is diverting attention from the pig in a poke.
Let us work together. There are many positives in the strategy.
Nonsense. The Minister has sold us a pig in a poke.
The strategy deserves to be given a chance. There are many varying viewpoints, but the Senator always says everything the Government states is nonsense.
I do not; that it is not true.
We need to move on and not get bogged down.
Reference was made to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katharine Zappone.
I do not always talk nonsense.
I agree with the Senator that there is an issue to be discussed because there are child care provisions against which there is a serious question mark. I will be happy to work with the Senator on the issue. I have already met the Minister in that regard. She is aware of the issue and I will be happy to have her come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Colette Kelleher welcomed the national strategy. To be fair to her, she has expertise in this matter. As Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh knows well, the Minister will be in the House again before Christmas.
Senator Ivana Bacik proposed we have a debate on the issue of fossil fuel divestment, as did Senator Alice-Mary Higgins. I congratulate the Trinity College Dublin Senators on being the first to raise the issue. It is part of a conversation the State needs to have.
On the situation in Aleppo, all Senators agree that there is a need for international action sooner rather than later because it has moved beyond what is acceptable. As Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said, the pictures and images are real life.
I join Senator Maria Byrne in welcoming the announcement made on the Shannon Estuary drive. I thank her for being an advocate for it, especially the area around Limerick and its inclusion in the Wild Atlantic Way. I also welcome the new rugby museum.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised a very topical issue - the lack of substitute teachers. I will be happy for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell, Frank Feighan and Paul Coghlan raised the issue of Brexit. The House of Lords report is a very fine tome which Members should read and reflect on during the holidays. There is a lot of very interesting commentary and observational analysis contained within it. It includes the line, "The implications of Brexit for Ireland are therefore more profound than they are for any other Member State", which is correct. Another line that struck me was, "The implications of the 23 June referendum result for UK-Irish relations are often overlooked, at least on this side of the Irish Sea", which is not an unfair comment.
The Leader should not quote too much from the report as he might spoil our Christmas reading.
I will put it to one side. I will hide it from the Cathaoirleach in order that he will not see it. Brexit presents a huge challenge for us. As the Minister said yesterday, we will not have the ability to have a bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland-----
-----but under the umbrella of the European Union, it is important that we all find common ground. Any negotiation must recognise the importance to this state of the North-South axis and the axis of the North and this island with England, Scotland and Wales. It is impressive that this is one of six reports that have been published. It is one that we will discuss at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges tomorrow. I hope the House can play an active role in that regard. There will be no objection from this side of the House to any of us being able to play a significant role in the matters to be discussed related to Brexit.
Senator Ray Butler spoke about the Sellafield plant. I will be happy to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to come to the House to discuss the matter, as well as the growth in the number of nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom. The Senator has raised the issue before in the House.
Senators Máire Devine and David Norris spoke about the Oxfam report.
I will remind the Senators of what is stated in it. I reject any allegation that Ireland is a tax haven because it is not. What the report actually states is-----
This is a corporate tax haven.
First, Ireland does not meet any of the international standards to be considered a tax haven. Second, we are fully compliant with international best practice when it comes to transparency and the exchange of information.
Why is the Leader-----
Does the Senator want me to reply?
No, because I think I know what the answer will be.
The Oxfam report includes Ireland's 12.5% corporation tax rate as one of the factors in calling it a tax haven.
No, it does not.
Yes, it does. The Senator should read the report.
I have it in front of me.
Its inclusion is in keeping with Sinn Féin's policy of increasing the corporation tax rate, driving jobs out of the country in the process.
The report states Ireland facilitates corporate tax avoidance.
It also lists the tax incentives offered by Ireland as being features of a tax haven, which is simply not true, as the Senators know well.
The Leader said it did not state that; now he is saying it does.
The Leader said the report did not state Ireland was a tax haven.
I know that it is nearly Christmas week, but can we all take it down an octave?
No, because if one does not tell fibs-----
I would love to be able to take it down an octave, but I have a squeaky voice.
The Oxfam report lists the tax incentives offered by Ireland as being features of a tax haven. That is what it states, but it is not true.
Who says it is not true?
Ireland has a limited number of targeted incentives that are fully in line with international best practice. I challenge the Senators to come back to the real world and recognise that Ireland is not a tax haven. We are fully compliant. The House knows from the Minister for Finance, in the context of the knowledge box and from the update he published on budget day on Ireland's international tax strategy which highlights our continuing efforts in that regard-----
Does the Leader also believe in Santa?
Does the Senator believe in job creation? There are 200,000 more people at work-----
If there are further interruptions, I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes. This is most ridiculous. Will Senators, please, allow the Leader to respond?
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of climate change and also referred to the national cycling strategy. In that regard, I join her in congratulating Dublin City Council. I will arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to return to the House in the new year to discuss the issue.
I will be happy to discuss with Senator David Norris the items to which he referred on the Order Paper. It probably will not happen before Christmas, but consideration will certainly be given to having them discussed.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Victor Boyhan referred to the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016. It is scheduled to complete all Stages in the Dáil on Friday. As agreed at the meeting of group leaders on Wednesday, it is the intention to take it in this House on Tuesday afternoon. We can sit as late as we want on Tuesday. It will certainly be-----
If that is the case, we should do it on Wednesday.
I ask the Senator to, please, allow me to finish. As Leader of the House, I have to take into consideration the needs of Members and their staff, Seanad staff and staff in the Minister's office, which is why we should try to get it done on Tuesday. There will be ample time to do so, given that the amendments will be presented to the Dáil this week. If passed, they will be contained in the Bill that will be brought to this House. There will be no changes, if Members know what I mean. There will, therefore, be no new information. I do not see a need to do anything other than what we have already agreed to, that is, to sit on Tuesday. I will be happy to discuss the matter with Senators.
More than 180 amendments have been tabled.
As Members know, all of the amendments will not be accepted or agreed to. All of the Government's amendments might not be accepted either. In the interests of fairness and not wishing to be obstructionist, we should wait until Thursday morning or afternoon. However, it is my intention, as agreed to at the meeting on Wednesday, to bring the Bill to the House to be debated next Tuesday. I will not rush it through, but I do not think there will be a need to sit other than on Tuesday.
There will be no further amendments allowed at that stage. Is that correct?
Yes. It is an amended Bill that will be brought back to this House.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the programme "The Crossing" which was shown on RTE last night. I commend the producers and narrators on the programme. On behalf of all Members, I pay tribute to the members of the Naval Service and the Defence Forces for the fine work they do.
Senator Colm Burke raised a very important issue. He has been a very strong champion of nursing homes and public and private relationships. I will be happy to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, come to the House to discuss the issue of recruitment by the HSE from the private sector to the public sector.
Senator Terry Leyden referred to the Compass Club, which is run by Coillte. I was not aware of the issue until he raised it. I am amused that the club is being stopped, given that we are living in an era in which alternative energy sources are being promoted and there is a need to promote awareness of the environment. The Senator made a very good point in that regard. If a PR company was involved, it would probably earn more than those providing the courses. I will be happy for the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss the issue. The Senator could also submit a Commencement matter on the subject.
Time is running out.
I accept that. I understand the Minister responsible is a constituency colleague of the Senator. It is a very interesting point.
Senator Paul Gavan referred to the situation in Yemen and the loss of life in the ongoing civil war. I have already replied to him on the use of Shannon Airport. He could submit a Commencement matter in order to bring the Minister responsible to the House to discuss the issue. We all join him in condemning killing and highlighting the need to preserve and protect life in the region. Any of us interested in a resolution of the conflict recognises that it cannot be allowed to continue.
I have addressed the matter raised by Senator Paul Coghlan.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to the Shannon Estuary. I will be happy to have a debate on the issue in the new year.
Senator Joan Freeman has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016, be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.