The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Wednesday, 21 December 2016, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes; No. 3, Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes; and No. 4, Courts Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and brought to a conclusion after 75 minutes.
Order of Business
I will mention two issues, the first of which is the tragedy in Berlin where 12 people were killed and 48 were injured at a Christmas market last night. On my own behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil group, I send my condolences to the people of Germany. We are living in uncertain times, with volatility in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS and the conflict in Syria which have caused wide-ranging consequences throughout Europe and fuelled a debate in which those on the right are front and centre. It is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. Seemingly, the pattern of elections in recent years has been that the far right is capitalising on a xenophobic agenda. That is wrong and makes me scared for the future of Europe. I also mention the murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara.
We have learned - it is now in the public domain - that various banks have been identified by the Central Bank in respect of 8,200 mortgage holders who have been denied a tracker mortgage rate. During the recent economic downturn, this would have caused severe economic instability for householders and families. If the shoe was on the other foot, the banks would be pursuing consumers aggressively, suing them for special damages and whatnot. The Central Bank needs to take a firm approach. Ultimately, any time the banks make a mistake, it is always consumers who pay. We need to look at this issue, figure out how we can restore confidence in the banks and ensure the people who have been denied tracker mortgages have the remedy they justly deserve.
I raise with the Leader the issue of the national housing crisis. While we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter tomorrow when we debate the Rebuilding Ireland legislation, figures were released yesterday. In Dublin alone Dublin City Council is paying hotels, hostels and other emergency accommodation providers over €1 million per week for emergency housing. I do not have a problem with providing emergency housing, but that is the depth of the financial crisis related to the national housing crisis. In the capital city €1 million per week is being spent on sheltering the spiralling number of people who are homeless. That is an absolute indictment of the political system, the housing system and, ultimately, the Government which is responsible for this area. Recent figures also show that 1,026 families are registered as homeless in Dublin, including more than 2,110 children. That is the extent of the crisis. Dublin City Council confirmed to me recently that it had budgetary plans in 2017 to spend €120 million on homeless services. That is welcome, but it is a vast amount of money and only barely scratching the surface. It will not provide long-term sustainable homes for families and individuals, something to which, surely, they are entitled.
We have a national housing crisis. Over 100,000 people across 31 local authorities are on homeless lists.
Some local authorities are building virtually no social housing, which is a problem. Will the Leader, please, arrange for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to the Seanad to, once and for all, deliver on Rebuilding Ireland? The Minister and his officials could not attend the joint committee in December. They were not in a position to do so. The Secretary General wrote to all the members, of which I am one. I have a copy of the letter which states they were not in a position to give the second quarterly report and review of progress on Rebuilding Ireland. It was an affront to the committee which sat in private session as there was no provision to have it broadcast. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister to the House very early in January to explain what is happening. If we are to have good policy, we need good data. Last week the Department confirmed to me that it was working off the summary of social housing assessment of 2013. We have had no national social housing assessment since 2013. These are the national statistics which should inform us. Good data make for good policy. We will have an opportunity to cover a number of issues tomorrow. It is critical that from 1 January Senators, Deputies and local authority members demand statistics on a monthly basis and debate them. The honeymoon and political stock of the Minister are over. I am not interested in comparing Leo and Simon. I want homes for people who are entitled to them. I want us to demand of the Government on a monthly basis an update on its stewardship of Rebuilding Ireland which is meant to be a Government programme.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 29, non-Government motion No. 14 on the crisis in JobPath, today.
I express my condemnation of the attack in Berlin yesterday on people who were preparing to celebrate Christmas. I express my solidarity with the people of Berlin and Germany. I ask that people remain calm and not allow such attacks to achieve their aim of creating division and suspicion.
I pay tribute to the leadership shown by Martin McGuinness yesterday in ensuring the stability of the institutions in the North. It is welcome that we will now have a fully timeframed inquiry into how such huge sums of money stand to be lost to the Executive.
I commend those participating in the action at Apollo House. The most recent ruling by the European Commission in the Apple tax case is as conclusive as it was several months ago. Apple's tax arrangements amounted to illegal state aid to a company. The ruling is as consistent as it was on day one and €13 billion is owed. There is a need to explain exactly who will benefit from the appeal. The statement from the Department of Finance was terse and defensive. If the Government is so confident that it is following the right path, we need some explanation to convince the masses of people looking at the homeless crisis and asking why at least some of the €13 billion cannot be used to resolve it. Otherwise, actions such as that taking place in Apollo House will continue and should be supported.
I wish everybody in the House a happy and peaceful Christmas. I thank all those in the Seanad Office for their support throughout the year.
I wish everybody here and all of the staff a happy Christmas and hope the new year will be good for everybody.
I am disappointed that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not be ratified by the end of the year. I will not get terribly upset about it this morning, other than simply to state it is a disappointment. I wish to address my point to the Members of the House, rather than to the Government. Ratification is the gateway to Ireland taking a comprehensive and broad approach to the inclusion of people and families with disabilities. When we speak about people with disabilities, their families and mental health needs, we are not speaking about people who are not close to any one of us and the families and communities in which we live. I am absolutely hopeful Ireland can do a lot better with the resources it has to make things better and fully include people with disabilities. This project is not alone good for people with disabilities, it is also the right thing for Ireland to be a better and more sustainable society. There are 60 Senators and every one of us and all of our political entities have supported ratification and, therefore, implementation of the convention at an early date. In the year ahead we all have a critical and a very practical role to play in the various areas in which we work in the Seanad in stitching the disability interest into all legislative and policy work. I am very hopeful and optimistic that if we get over the hump in having it ratified and get on with implementing it, the people and the Oireachtas have the wit and capacity to do it in a better way, which will shine a light across the world on how we deal with and involve people with disabilities.
This has been a fascinating year for me. I did not expect it to be in many ways. It is great to have so many colleagues and this opportunity. I wish everybody and those they love and care about a happy and peaceful Christmas and a good year ahead.
I join other Senators in expressing condolences to the people of Berlin on the appalling attack last night in which we know at least 12 people were killed and approximately 50 injured. On behalf of the Labour Party, I offer our sympathy. I hope, as others said, it will not feed into a rise in support for the far right, particularly the Alternative für Deutschland party. It is good to hear the careful language used by most German politicians in responding to the attack. I condemn the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, in Ankara yesterday. I also condemn the attack on the mosque in Zürich, about which we are reading today. Some very disturbing things are happening.
I have asked the Leader a number of times for a debate on the situation in Syria. I note, as others will, that in recent days we have seen the welcome evacuation of thousands of civilians, including the seven year old girl, Bana, who has been tweeting from there and many of us have been following her. She has been giving us an insider's account of what it is like to be under siege in Aleppo. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue in the new year. I hope we will see a cessation of hostilities in the meantime.
I welcome the appointment by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, of Ms Una Mullally as chairperson of the group to oversee the national LGBT youth strategy, on which I hope we might have a debate in the House in the new year. It is a very welcome appointment by the Minister and Ms Mullally is a very worthy chairperson.
I welcome the announcement that the Cabinet will today approve the content of the new reformed and consolidated domestic violence Bill which has been long promised. Colleagues will know that we have debated many times the issue of domestic violence and how best to respond to it. The justice committee produced a very comprehensive report on domestic violence and the Cathaoirleach will recall being on the committee. I hope we will have a debate on the new Bill in early course in the House. There will be very important changes, including for the first time the criminalisation of forced marriage and new powers for the court to hear evidence from children likely to be affected by the granting of barring or protection orders. We will see very welcome reforms. Senator John Dolan spoke about ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on which I support him. The domestic violence Bill will enable us to ratify the Istanbul Convention, another convention which we are long overdue in ratifying.
I wish the Cathaoirleach, the staff of the Seanad Office, the Clerk of the Seanad and everyone in the House a happy Christmas and new year.
I join others in expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the people of Germany on the awful catastrophe that happened in Berlin. I do so as our party's spokesperson on foreign affairs and we do so as a civilised people who believe in democratic and Christian values.
It is an horrific crime and one prays that it will not feed into extremism and cause a further cleavage in German society. It is particularly sad in the light of the fact that Chancellor Merkel has given world leadership on the refugee issue. The Government should do three things in response. It is important to be slightly prescriptive in discussing this awful atrocity. First, we should encourage international investment in areas of deprivation, particularly multi-racial areas with high levels of unemployment and alienation. That must be a strategy at a worldwide level, not just at a European level, and is one that we should be advocating and pioneering. Second, international security co-operation must be stepped up and kept at the highest level because nowhere is immune to these attacks, Ireland included. No matter what discomfort there may be at airports or other locations, we must ensure co-operation on security. Third, given Ireland's tradition and history, the Government is well placed to give moral leadership internationally in calling for peace initiatives that do not have embedded within them the potential for future conflict. The Government must be proactive in its response. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House in the new year to discuss all of these issues, in addition to the debate called for by Senator Ivana Bacik.
I also join colleagues in condemning the events in Zürich and the killing of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, another horrific crime. It is sad that we are discussing such matters.
On a more up-beat note, I join colleagues in wishing staff and Members the best for the season.
Before calling Senator Robbie Gallagher, I acknowledge the presence of Deputy Jackie Cahill and Councillor Hogan in the Visitors Gallery. At a time when we are working hard, it is good to see a Deputy from the Lower House coming and paying homage to us.
I also welcome our guests to the Chamber.
A decision is imminent from An Bord Pleanála on the proposed North-South interconnector project, notwithstanding the fact that great anger has been expressed at the proposal by communities in counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. I understand a decision from the board is due in the next number of weeks. Residents are very angry and disappointed that the overground option was the only one considered by An Bord Pleanála. When the project was first mooted, it was claimed that the underground option would be 20 times more expensive than the overground option. That claim has changed and it is now estimated that the underground option would be less than twice the cost of the overground option. We were also told by EirGrid that the underground option was not possible from a technical and engineering perspective. The company has since retracted what it stated and now accepts that it is possible for the overhead lines to be run underground. People in the affected communities believe they were ignored by the last Government and that the buck was passed to EirGrid and An Bord Pleanála. A number of issues have arisen since the original planning application, not least the issue of Brexit. I do not know what the Government's thoughts are on that issue. Have the Government, EirGrid and An Bord Pleanála considered the implications of Brexit for the North-South interconnector project? Could Brexit affect the decision of An Bord Pleanála? Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come to the House in the new year to address this very important issue?
I join Members in wishing the Cathaoirleach and all of the staff of both Houses a very happy and peaceful Christmas and a very healthy, prosperous and happy new year.
I welcome publication of the 2015 annual report of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. Since its establishment in 2005, the ombudsman's office has successfully provided an impartial and independent review mechanism for complaints submitted by serving or former members of the Defence Forces. For those who are not satisfied with the handling of their complaints under the redress of wrongs procedure, the Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces offers an accessible means of redress. In addition, the office performs an oversight role in the administration of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence and makes recommendations on administrative and systematic reforms. While the ombudsman was full of praise for the high level of ongoing engagement between his office, military authorities, representative associations and the Department of Defence, he expressed strong concern that the system included delays which were unacceptable and stated a co-ordinated effort to reduce them was necessary.
Members will be aware that I have raised in this House on two occasions in Commencement debates the specific case of a lieutenant colonel. I have pointed out that delays in the Department of Defence responding to findings of the ombudsman are causing severe distress and some complaints. In the case of the aforementioned lieutenant colonel, the ombudsman has made certain recommendations for the resolution of issues, but that is all that he can do - make recommendations to the Minister. To date, there has been no response from the Department and the claimant has been forced to take the matter to the courts, which is totally unacceptable. While the powers of the ombudsman are limited to making recommendations to the Minister, the final resolution of the complaint requires a response from the Minister to the ombudsman's report. In the particular case to which I refer, there has been no final closure. I strongly believe excessive delays undermine the legislative intent of the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004 and hampers the role of the ombudsman in the full execution of his remit. I have raised the case as a Commencement matter and also called for a debate in this House on the Defence Forces. I would like the role of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces included in that debate.
The Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces is severely hampered. I understand the current ombudsman is only working three days per week because of cutbacks. That is simply not good enough. The number of cases grew between 2008 and 2015, although, thankfully, there was a reduction in 2016. However, we now have people waiting two to three years for a resolution, which does not bode well for informal solutions to problems. I ask the Leader to include this issue in the forthcoming debate.
I wish the Cathaoirleach and the staff of Leinster House in general but particularly the staff of Seanad Éireann a very happy Christmas. I hope 2017 will bring them more than they ever wished for.
I join others in wishing everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas and good health throughout 2017.
The issue of housing has been raised. We have a housing crisis, but we also have a crisis in the number of vacant dwelling houses in the country. There are over 190,000 vacant houses, something to which we need to face up. We must determine how to bring these houses back into use. Senator Kevin Humphreys has raised the issue of houses that are vacant because their owners are in nursing homes. We must find ways to incentivise owners to bring these houses back into use, rather than leaving them vacant. If all of the 190,000 vacant houses were used, we would not have a housing crisis. We must address this issue now, as well as building new houses through local authority schemes and the private sector. We have not done anything to date about this very important issue.
As we face into Christmas time, there will be major pressure on emergency departments. The big problem in that context is that 30% of all admissions to such departments are alcohol related. We need to send a strong message about the need to drink in moderation during the Christmas and new year period in order to reduce the numbers of admissions through emergency departments.
It is an extremely important message to send at this time. People can enjoy themselves by drinking in moderation and not ending up inside an emergency department. It is an extremely important issue.
I second Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
There is a political crisis in Northern Ireland centred on confidence in the very hard fought for, hard negotiated for and hard won institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement which none of us should take for granted. How does one lay out the context of what appears to be a very comprehensive squandering of £400 million through what appears to be and what is alleged to be a fundamentally flawed scheme from top to bottom? The context also includes potential interference by special advisers and potential manipulation of the scheme by alleged benefactors of the DUP. It has also been alleged that subsequent DUP Ministers in the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment did not act to close the scheme down, despite many public expressions of concern both inside and outside the Assembly chamber. As we know in this state, Sinn Féin does not do unaccountable politics. That is why we have proposed a judge-led, time-bound and independent inquiry to investigate every aspect of the concerns about this scandal. Our Minister of Finance, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, has moved swiftly to shut down any further abuse of the scheme and to work to redress any further loss to the public purse. This must be at the heart of what we try to do. If we value the institutions in this House and if the Government values the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement, this is not the time for party politicking or stunt politics which manifested in the Assembly yesterday; rather, it is the time to assist and defend the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. We need to be very clear that the institutions and the Government state they will stand up for the rights and equality of citizens, regardless of from where they come, and in defence of the public purse and that they will not allow the scheme to go unchallenged or those who have abused it to go unpunished.
I join other speakers in passing my condolences to the people of Berlin, Zürich and Ankara. We all send our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died in these awful events.
It is welcome that there will be open recruitment of nurses and midwives in Dr. Steevens' Hospital from 28 to 30 December. It is for nurses and midwives across the health service and the first of many recruitment drives due to be held in 2017. It is very positive that people can get information, bring in their CVs, apply on the day and be interviewed. It is a good news story that jobs are on offer and that the health service is answering the call to meet demand. I encourage as many nurses and midwives who are anxious to get back into the recruitment process and work to come along and attend the first of these many recruitment drives.
I raise worrying reports that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will have to fund the €25 million cost of the Garda pay deal from her own resources. Earlier this year there was much loss of life in the Dublin area caused by the feud between drug cartels across the city. It was clamped down on mainly through Garda overtime. If the Tánaiste must find the money from her own resources, I hope security will not be put at risk, particularly in the capital city. There has been great progress in clamping down on the drug cartels, not only in Dublin but also in Cork and other areas. There have been great successes in dealing with break-ins. We have seen quite a reduction in that regard in the past year, which I welcome. I am concerned about the discussions on the reduction of investment in Garda equipment such as squad cars. It is very important for rural areas that gardaí have proper squad cars. The Leader was a Member of the Dáil when we were able to reopen the Garda College in Templemore and put many new recruits on the streets. We cannot cut back on the training that is badly needed. Will the Leader to ask the Tánaiste to come to the House to debate where she is going to find the €25 million from her own resources? We cannot take a step backwards.
Like previous speakers, I want to talk about the housing crisis. There has been no change this year. It is sad to see that people have taken matters into their own hands and are trying to house homeless pesons in Apollo House in Dublin. I have to compliment them in that regard. It is sad that people are still homeless in 2016 and that the problem is getting worse. As so many patients are still on trolleys, there has been no change and it is the same with hospital waiting lists. The biggest issue facing us is that we are living in an era of what are called soup kitchens. There is no streamlined funding. For months in the House I have been asking the Leader and the Minister for Social Protection for some funding. As people are still suffering, we need to see change. People cannot afford car insurance. I am highlighting issues that are coming to us day in and day out that need to be highlighted because these are the people who are suffering and whom we represent today.
We have all received e-mails from Alone. It is important that as people who have represented the elderly, we look after elderly people and neighbours this Christmas because this is a time when many places are closed and people feel most vulnerable. If we do one good thing, it would be to look after the elderly and our neighbours and make sure we do our best. I felt 2016 was a very hard year when I saw all the changes and people suffering. We can make a difference in 2017 for the people we represent because people are living in poverty.
I wish everybody a happy Christmas and good health.
I also join my colleagues in condemning the cowardly act of terrorism in Berlin, the awful events in Zürich where a mosque was fired on and the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara. This is pure evil, hatred and radicalisation. We need to double our efforts to address the symptoms of these very serious issues.
Four years ago tomorrow, we lost a great friend and politician, Shane McEntee. The news of his death left all those who knew him devastated. He had been a Deputy for seven years and appointed a Minister of State in 2011. He served his country and constituency of Meath East with distinction. To all of us and especially his family, his loss is immeasurable. I take the opportunity to remember a great colleague and friend. He is still sorely missed by all of us.
As Christmas is upon us, it is a time of great joy for many, but equally it is also a time of reflection when we remember loved ones who have passed and where we must be especially conscious of those less fortunate than ourselves. Last night I attended an event in aid of Pieta House. I pay tribute to organisations such as Pieta House which since it was established a decade ago has helped more than 20,000 people in suicidal distress or who have engaged in self-harm. I am also staggered each time I am reminded of the fact that more people die in Ireland every year by suicide than in road traffic accidents.
I wish the staff, my colleagues and everybody a mighty Christmas and a powerful new year.
I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom Nollaig shona faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise a ghuí ar gach duine sna Tithe seo, ár gcomhghleacaithe agus foireann an tSeanaid ach go háirid, chomh maith le foireann na dTithe trí chéile.
I am disappointed in the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. We raised the issue of child care facilities, as there are concerns about the new regulations to be introduced in January. I wrote to the Minister, but I did not receive an acknowledgement. The Leader raised the issue with her. I ask him before he departs for the Christmas recess to raise it again with her because when we resume in January, we will return to a crisis in a number of child care centres across the country if the issue is not addressed.
I also support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 29, non-Government motion No. 14, today. There is a specific reason we need to take the motion. The motion calls on the Minister for Social Protection "to acknowledge the concerns being raised in communities across the country concerning the JobPath scheme and to immediately carry out a full review of the scheme operated by Turas Nua and Seetec". This issue has been raised with me a number of times in the past two weeks, in particular. This privatised method of social protection which, in fairness, was introduced by Deputy Joan Burton when she was Minister for Social Protection appears to be poaching people from community employment schemes. I have been told of a community employment scheme locally that was sent a list of 20 people eligible from the dole list to participate in a community employment scheme, but on ringing the 20 people on the list, 19 had already been snapped up by the company Seetec. That indicates that Seetec is getting the information first from the Department of Social Protection or that something else is afoot. The problem is that community employment schemes are finding it impossible to fill vacancies. There will be a huge outcry about this across the country. In fairness, Deputies in the Lower House, including Deputies Éamon Ó Cuív and Willie O'Dea, have raised issues about it also. We need an immediate intervention by the Minister whereby the two private companies would be told to back off. We need to examine the way community employment schemes are allowed to recruit people and their eligibility. Currently, people are being taken from their current positions and able to move from a community employment scheme. I am hearing from hearing from people included in the JobPath scheme that they are being called for interview after interview and given the same information again and again, but there is very little progression. It is an immediate issue. I call on all Senators across the House to support our call that the Minister for Social Protection come to the House today to address the issue in order that from January onwards we can make sure community employment schemes and other community schemes will be given a fair crack of the whip. We will press the amendment to the Order of Business to a vote. We hope all parties across the House will support us as they have been making public pronouncements in that regard.
I join others in offering my condolences to the families of the victims in the atrocities yesterday.
Several Members have spoken in the House about Syrian refugees and the fact that many of them will be brought into the country in 2017. I ask the Leader to allow a debate on this matter in the new year with reference to the problems that will follow. I spoke last week about the fact that Syrian refugees would come into the country and that we needed to make sure they were housed properly, not in the asylum units in place because they are atrocious places for anybody in which to have to live and not in barracks because they are not suitable accommodation for anybody. I am very worried especially about young children and young men who will come into the country in the new year. What psychological assessment of the people concerned will be made and what services will be put in place for them when they come here? Many of them will be very traumatised and suffer from post-traumatic stress, as they have seen terrible things happen in the places from which they are coming here. We cannot simply bring them into the country, throw them into units and leave them there without supports. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to debate this matter. Senator Kevin Humphreys has also requested that the Minister come to the House. This issue and the issue the Senator raised could be addressed by the Minister on the same day. I ask that she outline the supports that will be put in place for the refugees. As we all know, psychological services for children and adolescents in this country are pushed as it is. Therefore, we need to make sure there will be services available for the young people mentioned, that they will settle in properly, that they will have the facilities they need and deserve, that they will grow into young adults and that we will not have to talk about them down the line in terms of terrorist atrocities.
A Nollaig shona daoibh go léir.
In case I forget to do so later, I thank all of the staff of the House and across the Oireachtas for their help during the past 12 months. It was an election period and many Members did not know the procedures and the staff's assistance was a great help. I welcome all of the new Senators and hope that in some small way I have been of assistance to them. I thank all of the older and more experienced people here who helped me during the past year. I particularly thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, even though I tried to get their jobs but failed. The Cathaoirleach has been very fair to me, as has Senator Paul Coghlan when he has been in the Chair.
I particularly single out the Leader, Senator Jerry Buttimer, who has been fair to Members across the House. Without naming any other Member in that position, I found that when I raised a matter and pursued it a little with the Leader, I received a very good response. That is what we are about here, namely, trying to get work done and helping people.
I wish to raise two issues. This time last year we were dealing with the full force of flooding across the country. We had submerged pumps which had been installed as part of the flood relief project and system, but they failed. There was a lack of pumps across the south east. At one stage I had to call my brother-in-law to bring a pump to me from County Laois. I ask the Leader to ensure we will be winter ready in that respect. I did not get an opportunity to speak during the statements on flooding last week, as some Members who were in the House at the time may know. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister responsible on that issue to see if it has been resolved.
The second issue concerns the horse racing industry, on which we were to have a debate before the end of the year. I will use an analogy I do not like to make. When I see Tesco, SuperValu, Dunnes, Aldi and Lidl dominate the ads during whatever television programme I might be watching and I see the racing ads citing that Gordon Elliott had a five-timer and Willie Mullins a six-timer - I am a racing man - I hope the racing industry will not go the way of the retail industry because it is the small man who I love to see winning a race.
This morning I wrote to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, representing the other group of people with whom I am friendly and who are also our constituents. We received commitments that before the end of 2017 some improvements would be made to the terms and conditions of councillors, but we have not seen it happen. Santa is not coming for another five days. Therefore, there is plenty of time to do this. I ask the Leader to take up that specific issue today and write to the Minister with responsibility for the environment and local government about it.
I hope everybody will have a great Christmas.
I am very concerned that the National Transport Authority's rail review recommends the dropping of direct services on the Kerry-Dublin route. Over 500,000 journeys were made on the Tralee-Dublin route last year. Tralee is seen as a strong regional centre and the route does particularly does well during the summer months and why would it not with Killarney on it? The tourism season has been extended and it is extending all the time, with more and more people using rail services. I strongly believe County Kerry does not deserve to be disadvantaged whatsoever in this way. I also say this in the national interest. Others will have concerns about recommendations made in the report regarding other parts of the country. This issue is worthy of debate in the new year. Perhaps the Leader might schedule such a debate at a convenient time in due course.
Like previous speakers, I wish the Cathaoirleach, all of the staff and all Members a very happy Christmas. I look forward to being back in the new year, if not in this Chamber, in some other place that has been mentioned. Please God, it will be suitable. God bless.
It may be that the Dublin brigade are trying to prevent Kerry from retaining Sam by stopping trains from going there.
On Wednesday of last week I referred to the national service plan for 2017. I specifically referred to the risks to delivery of what was contained in the plan. Quite a number of risks are outlined in the document, but I will specify three main points.
The first concerns the increased demand for services beyond funded levels. The second concerns control over pay and staff members, at the same time as managing specific safety regulatory demands, while the third concerns our ability to meet demand for new drug approvals within funded levels. I highlight these risks just for starters. The Minister for Health, Deputy simon Harris, has outlined that he will need more funding outside of what he has secured to run the health service next year. He is also facing into a spring of discontent following a decision of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to ballot its members for industrial action owing to staff shortages, working conditions, recruitment and retention issues. This industrial action will commence at the end of January. This morning Germany announced that it had approved the funding of Orkambi for its citizens with cystic fibrosis. This places further pressure on the Department of Health to secure a deal to provide Orkambi for the 500 people in Ireland who require the drug. These are just three points I have picked from a wide-ranging document. I would welcome an opportunity in the new year to set aside time to debate the service plan in detail.
I commend and extend my heartiest best wishes to those occupying Apollo House and providing beds for the homeless. It goes to show that, with the will, there are plenty of properties available to take citizens off the streets. The Government needs to wise up and get its priorities right. When I was a councillor just prior to 2014, €4 million was spent annually to deal with homelessness across the four Dublin local authorities. As we heard this morning, this figure has increased by millions of euro.
I hope Santa will be good to all. Nollaig shona daoibh go léir. I look forward to debating and interacting in a constructive way in the new year.
I join other Members in their expressions of solidarity to the people of Berlin and the families affected by last night's events. I also extend my sympathy to them. These acts of terror are against humanity and the values we have cultivated, particularly in the West. We have to stand strong against them. Obviously, it is a complex issue. It is safe to say Germany, in the context of its refugee policy, thought it knew what it was doing, but clearly it does not. There has to be a wider debate, particularly on the issue of numbers. The idea that numbers do not matter and that doors should be opened without any restraint has been challenged by these events.
I support Senator Gabrielle McFadden. There are 200 young men due to come here. Some of the countries from which they will come are war zones. Somalia is a lawless country. The people mentioned are coming from different cultures. We can only begin to imagine what it takes for a young person to survive in a camp like that in Calais. One can only imagine what has happened to these young people and how traumatised they are. There is a real need for them to be given access to psychological services.
In the new year I would like the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to attend the House to allay fears arising from the news that 27,000 householders have been affected by a fault in electricity meters owned by ESB Networks. The meters have been over-recording the amount of electricity used. We know that any interference with the meters is an offence. However, in this case, people could be out of pocket. We want to know that they will be refunded in an open and transparent way and also, if it can be identified, the extent to which people have been overcharged. There are legitimate questions for the Minister, in conjunction with ESB Networks, to answer. The matter must be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.
Before I call the Leader to respond, I express my gratitude to all Senators for their co-operation and kindness throughout the year. I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the staff who are and have been in the recent past overworked and under-resourced a pleasant Christmas. I thank the Captain of the Guard, Mr. John Flaherty, for his courtesy and support during the past year and wish him a happy Christmas. I also wish a happy Christmas to the Superintendent; the head usher, Mr. Colm O'Rourke, and the deputy head usher, Mr. Tom Hickey, who did a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure the choreography of the visit of the Scottish First Minister, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, was successful. A lot of the time the staff of Leinster House are forgotten. I express my sincere gratitude to all of them. I hope they enjoy Christmas and that we will have a pleasant new year. I thank everybody for his or her kind remarks.
I thank the 20 Members who contributed on the Order of Business. The majority of Members referred to the tragic events at the Christmas market in Berlin last night. I join them in sending sympathy to the families of those killed and condemning this barbaric and savage attack. Two of my friends were there last weekend and I can only imagine the carnage that would have been caused if the attack had occurred on a weekend night. Nonetheless, it is the loss of life that matters. It is about hatred and evil. As Senator Frank Feighan said, it is also about radicalisation. We must all stand firm for democracy and uphold the law of the land and people's rights.
Equally, the killing in Ankara of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, represents an attack on democracy. Irrespective of one's political views, he was an ambassador and representative of the people of Russia and should have been allowed to carry on his business without fear of being attacked and killed.
The events at the mosque in Zürich are disturbing and send a strong message at this time of goodwill and peace. The world must stand together to ensure the men and women of violence do not gain a foothold. It is important to respect, value and cherish life and democracy.
Senator Catherine Ardagh raised the important issue of the banks denying tracker mortgages. It is important that we all ensure the banks do not charge customers incorrectly. Today the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Philip Lane, is before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. He needs to be questioned about the events that led to this revelation. It is important that the banks treat their customers fairly and with respect and I hope they do.
Senator Victor Boyhan referred to the national housing crisis and Rebuilding Ireland. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be in the House tomorrow. To be fair to him, he has always been willing to make himself available to this House. It was an unfortunate clash that resulted in him not being able to attend the housing committee. When I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I took my role seriously in being independent of the Government. That committee held quarterly meetings with the then Minister for Health and Children. It was an opportunity for members to engage with the Minister and should always be stood up for. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be happy to discuss the matter both here and at the committee.
I am not accepting Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. We agreed to the work schedule at the meeting of group leaders and Whips last week. The meetings afford them the opportunity to bring forward business. Equally, in the House last week I gave a commitment on the matter raised by the Senator this morning. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is examining it and committed to bringing about a resolution in the new year. I acknowledge that the community employment scheme brings significant benefits to communities. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House in the new year to discuss the issue.
Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile and Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the institutions in the North. Yesterday was difficult for many at Stormont, but I am sure the matters being discussed will be resolved. I have every confidence in the institution that is Stormont to bring about a resolution. Anything we say here is only superfluous to what is happening there.
I am sure the Senator's party will also be good at standing up for the institutions of the State down here and that he is looking forward to working with all of us to ensure we will have a good Parliament. It is important that we allow space for events in the North to unfold in the coming weeks and months.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the decision in the Apple case. Let us make it quite clear. I again invite members of the Sinn Féin Party to come and visit Cork, meet the men and women employed by Apple and see the benefits it brings to the city and county of Cork, including the jobs and investment in the local economy.
Nobody is disputing that. That is not at issue.
They pay their full taxes.
That is a superficial response.
I am sorry.
Let me make it quite clear. Senator Máire Devine does not want to hear good news. I accept that she would rather see Apple not doing well. That is her prerogative.
I would not.
Let us not cast aside good news. The Government has made its position clear. It disagrees profoundly with the European Commission's analysis and is appealing the decision to the European Court of Justice to have it annulled. I will not go into the reasons again, but the Government has been forceful and clear that we do not do deals. There has been no final penalty levied against the State. It is an historical issue. The correct amount of Irish tax was charged and no selective advantage was given. In September over 70% of the Members of the Dáil voted to support the Government's appeal. Let us not have the debate reopened, but if Senator Rose Conway-Walsh wants to have that debate, let us have it and she can face the men and women who are gainfully employed in Cork, benefiting the local economy and able to pay their taxes and mortgages.
That is not a rational argument.
Let Apple pay its full taxes.
The Leader to continue, without interruption.
Senator John Dolan raised the issue of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities not being ratified. I share his disappointment in that regard. As he will be aware, those of us on this side of the House are committed to dealing with the matter. However, it is important that we get it right. As Senator James Reilly said to me, other European countries sign up to the convention automatically without ensuring they fulfil the criteria. I hope that in our case we will do so in time and properly. It is important to have the convention ratified.
In response to Senator Ivana Bacik, I will be happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House in the new year to discuss the situation in Syria. Like Senator Gabrielle McFadden, I believe it is important that we have that debate and see the Government fulfilling its commitment to take in refugees from many parts of the world.
I join Senator Ivana Bacik in congratulating Ms Una Mullally on her appointment as chairperson of the group which will oversee the national LGBT youth strategy. It is a tremendous appointment, one that is long overdue. I hope that, in building on the result of the referendum and the Gender Recognition Act 2015, we will see the rights and entitlements of young LGBT people placed centre stage. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, deserves full praise for what she did yesterday.
On the issue of domestic violence, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has committed to coming to the House to discuss it. I will be happy to invite her to do so in the new year.
Senator James Reilly who is a member of the Council of Europe raised the important issue of international co-operation. He made a good point in that regard. There is a need for moral leadership across the world.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred to the North-South interconnector and the impending decision of An Bord Pleanála. The best thing I can say in supporting the Senator is that it is a matter for An Bord Pleanála which is an independent body. We await its decision and look forward to hearing its opinion. We will then look at all of the options. I am sure the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, will go before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the important matter of the 2015 report of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Mr. McCourt. I again thank the Senator for being a champion for the Defence Forces in this House. There were 132 cases under review, an increase of 15% on the figure of 115 in 2014 and a rise of 32% on the number of cases in 2013. However, it represented a reduction on the figure in 2012. I note the remarks made by the Senator. I will be happy to have the Minister of State come to the House to discuss the issue. Interestingly, half of the cases under review involved promotion. As in all spheres, there is a competitive element and, I am sure, disappointed personnel. I commend the ombudsman for the work he is doing and hope he can work with the Department in ensuring cases will be dealt with swiftly.
Senator Colm Burke raised the matter of housing vacancies. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be in the House tomorrow when the Senator can discuss the matter with him or, if not, in the new year.
The Senator is correct on the issue of emergency departments. Senator Frank Feighan referenced the number of road traffic accidents at this time of the year and heading into a new year. We have seen an increase in the number of people detected drinking and driving and also in the number admitted to emergency departments. I hope people will be sensible about the amount of alcohol they consume and not clog up emergency departments.
I have referred to the issues raised by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile about the institutions in the North.
I join Senator Maria Byrne in congratulating the HSE on its recruitment campaign. I hope it will be a success and that many of our young men and women will be attracted back from abroad.
Senator Kevin Humphreys referred to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the figure of €25 million. The Tánaiste is committed to ensuring the allocation of the additional moneys will not have an impact on the provision of services. She is committed to Garda recruitment and increasing the Garda budget for the provision of vehicles, equipment and new technology. I will be happy for her come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor raised a number of issues related to housing, health and car insurance. They are all being dealt with as part of the programme for Government. I agree wholeheartedly with the Senator in hoping we will all at this time of the year check in on elderly loved ones, relations, neighbours and friends. It is important that we keep an eye on them, particularly when the weather turns a little colder.
Senator Frank Feighan remembered Shane McEntee who was both a Deputy and a Minister of State. I join the Senator in paying tribute to him. I also commend Pieta House which does significant work at this time of the year.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in the context of new regulations governing child care facilities. I will be happy to apprise the Minister again of the matter. I cannot say why she did not reply to the Senator. It is not acceptable for a Minister not to reply to a Member of the House. I will be happy to ask the Minister to speak to the Senator.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden again referred to refugees and the issue that needed to be rectified in that regard. I will be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Denis Landy raised the issue of flooding. Last week we had a good debate on the Be Ready Winter Campaign. I hope we will not see a repeat of the events of Christmas 2015 and those that occurred early in 2016. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, for the work he is doing on the issue of flood alleviation.
I share with Senator Denis Landy the view that the horse racing sector is both important and pivotal in job creation and the promotion of Ireland. For many, it is a gateway to Europe. I hope the small yard will always be able to overcome the obstacles. It is a worry at times for it, but it is in the nature of the sector that it happens.
Everyone in the House will join me in hoping the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, will bring about a resolution to improve the terms and conditions of councillors. The Minister is committed to doing so. I will be happy to convene a meeting of the all-party committee in the new year, if it does not happen before Christmas, at which we can push for it to happen unanimously. I note that it is coming from all sides of the House.
I had not heard about the issue raised by Senator Paul Coghlan concerning the Kerry-Dublin train service. I presume it is the train service to Kerry, not flights, about which he is talking.
The National Transport Authority's rail review.
I will be happy to have the Senator's good friend, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, come to the House to discuss the matter in the new year.
I wonder if I could put up Kerry spectators at all-Ireland finals.
I will discuss the matter with the Leader outside.
The Leader had better roll up his sleeves.
In response to Senator Máire Devine, it is the season of goodwill.
I am trying. Senator Máire Devine referenced the HSE's national service plan, but I remind her of a couple of good news stories that she might share with her friends and constituents. She needs to hear them, rather than only about the doom and gloom. It is an important point.
The Leader should not be getting at me about the doom and gloom. I am in opposition and meant to point to the failures.
The Senator is in opposition, but it should not be opposition for the sake of it.
No. When it comes to the chaos, the Leader should face reality.
The HSE's national service plan-----
I must remind the Leader that it is also Christmas time.
He kept picking on me.
I want to give the Senator the good news, just in case she thinks Scrooge is here. The HSE's national service plan reflects a 3.4% increase. There is €458.6 million more in funding.
There has been an acknowledgement that it is not enough.
There is €958.6 million or 7.4% more than the budget for 2016. It is the third year in succession that there is a significant increase in the allocation for the HSE. It has been allocated €13.9 billion for expenditure on health services in 2017.
The HSE's national service plan is about bringing people-----
The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, has already acknowledged that it is not enough.
It is about increasing the level of service and development. I think the Senator will join me in welcoming, rather than condemning, the increased allocation.
I welcome it, but it is not enough.
Apollo House was referred to by the Senator, as well as by others, including I think Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, but I might be wrong. The position needs to be monitored. We understand the people engaging in the action are well motivated. However, I do not believe Apollo House is in any way an appropriate venue or location in which to live. If one listens to people such as Fr. Peter McVerry and radio programmes-----
It is better than freezing and dying on the streets.
Will the Senator listen and let me finish? Emergency beds are available. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has put in place a comprehensive plan. Occupying a building and providing home supports in an ad hoc way is not the way to go about things. I appeal to those involved to engage with the service providers in order that we can ensure people will not be homeless over Christmas.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the matter of ESB meters. I will be happy to have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, come to the House to discuss it.
On a personal note, taking off the hat of respondent to contributions made made on the Order of Business, I wish the staff of the Seanad Office a very peaceful and happy Christmas. They have engaged in extraordinary work on our behalf since our return after the election. I thank them for their courtesy, good humour, efficiency, diligence and professionalism, for which we should all acknowledge and applaud them.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his courtesy and impartiality in performing his role.
I thank the Captain of the Guard, the Superintendent, Colm and Tom and all of the ushers for their good humour and courtesy and the tremendous work they do on our behalf. It is clear from listening to and watching them conduct tours for groups, including school groups, the amount of knowledge they possess and the good banter in which they engage that they are great ambassadors for the Houses.
I thank the men and women who record what we say, the stenographers and sound staff, to whom I offer my apologies if the terms used are wrong. They do great work. They are the silent ones in the House. They never speak, but they record everything we say and make it read better.
God help them.
Sometimes they turn it into better English; other times it is not possible to take mangled syntax and make it read better. They do tremendous work.
I thank all other staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the tremendous work they do, including those in the Bills Office, the Journal Office and the Library and Research Service, as well as the catering staff and those who work in the bar. If I have forgotten anybody, I apologise. It does not take just one person to run the Houses of the Oireachtas but a wide group of people.
I thank the other 59 Members of the Seanad for their courtesy, good humour and willingness to engage and park adversity. I wish all of them and their families a very peaceful, tranquil and joyful Christmas. I thank, in particular, the party and group leaders and Whips, with whom I deal every week, for their professionalism, courtesy and friendship. It has been a very productive term. We have been very engaged, although one would not think so listening to some members of the commentariat, but that is okay. It is their prerogative. I wish all Senators a good break and hope we will see each other in the new year.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 29, non-Government motion No. 14 re Jobpath, be taken today." The amendment has been seconded by Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. Is it being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Devine, Máire.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Landy, Denis.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Daly, Paul.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Noone, Catherine.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.