The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the health service, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 2.25 p.m.; No. 2, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourned not later than 4.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 27, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 16 re junior cycle reform, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Yesterday's edition of the Irish Independent contained a report by Niall O'Connor on the help-to-buy scheme announced by the Government last October. It is of great concern to me that I have been inundated with queries in my constituency office from first-time buyers who are seeking to purchase properties built by contractors who have not registered with the Revenue Commissioners. The grant under the help-to-buy scheme is unavailable to them on the basis that the contractor has not registered. It is completely unacceptable that they find themselves in this position. Yesterday morning the Revenue Commissioners published a list which included 13 contractors who had registered. By yesterday afternoon 17 contractors in the entire country had registered. I find it extraordinary that the Government has not introduced a mandatory requirement for contractors to register with Revenue in order to assist and protect first-time buyers. The requirements to be met by registering contractors are published on Revenue's website and include evidence of tax compliance, the contractor's VAT details, an up-to-date tax clearance certificate, details of the contractor's address, planning and land holdings.
At a time when house prices are rising fast and so many are desperately trying to put the necessary deposit together to buy their first home, the Government is failing first-time buyers badly. It is well and good to announce feel-good schemes in an effort to generate positive publicity, but it is evident from queries to my office and from the Revenue Commissioners who have confirmed the details that the scheme mentioned is not working. I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to attend the House to explain why it is not working and there is no mandatory obligation on contractors to register. There are serious faults in the legislation which they need to iron out. They must explain to first-time buyers that they will not receive the grant if contractors are not registered. Many first-time buyers are not aware of this.
Earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, raised concerns about air quality levels in Dublin as 13 of the monitoring stations in the city had reported the lowest air quality rating. High levels of air pollution have been linked with lung and heart disease and can have severe adverse effects on the health of the most vulnerable in society. The EPA has warned those suffering from ill health to avoid strenuous physical activity outside. Low air quality is linked with local pollution sources such as road vehicles and home heating emissions which combine with the cold. I call on the Government to take the issue of air quality more seriously. Low air quality poses a serious threat to the health of the most vulnerable in society.
There is a problem in Border counties, of which I was only made aware last week. When a person living in the Republic suffers trauma or an emergency and is shipped to the nearest hospital, where it is located across the Border, he or she will be treated on arrival, but he or she must pay for treatment. I refer to a person brought to Altnagelvin or Craigavon hospital. Form E111 does not cover a person for medical procedures where he or she is brought to the hospital in an emergency. If on a visit to Enniskillen I have a heart attack and I am brought to hospital, I will be treated for free. It will cost me nothing, but if I am living on the Republic side of the Border, have a heart attack and I am brought to the nearest hospital across the Border, I will be treated as a paying patient. It is an anomaly in the system which must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. As we head into Brexit, I have no idea where we are going with respect to cross-Border medical care.
I have complimented the Leader on the way he runs the House and continue to believe he does an excellent job. However, I have a huge issue with the amount of time allocated for statements on something that was an emergency three weeks ago, namely, the state of the health service. I am not so sure it is beneficial to the Minister to be here today when we could deal with Private Members' business to facilitate the passage of legislation several Members want to introduce. In saying that I am not being critical as there are times when the making of statements is really important. However, the medical crisis has been hammered to death and I am not sure the making of statements here today will help to get one person off a trolley. In fact, the Minister would probably be better employed in doing something to get patients off trolleys rather than having to listen to Senators talk about geographical constituencies which we do not represent in this House. As such, it might be something the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges could discuss in the future. While there are times when the making of statements is vital, the time to make them is not after the event.
I want to talk about the tracker mortgage scandal. I commend Deputy Pearse Doherty and other Sinn Féin Deputies for moving a motion calling for a full and urgent redress scheme for the 15,000 victims affected by the theft of their money by the banks. We need an overhaul of white collar crime legislation in order that the bankers responsible will be held to account. In addition, an unspeakable wrong has been done to the individuals and families who lost their homes and those who endured the stress of being hounded by reckless and unsupervised bankers who were fully aware that they were demanding money under false pretences. During our questioning of the banks at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, the banks told us that they had made a mistake; thererfore, they all made the same mistake at the same time. The evidence points to a deliberate and calculated plan to implement this practice across the board. The scale of the theft can be seen in the fact that AIB and Permanent TSB have made provision for sums of €190 million and €145 million to refund those who were overcharged. One can only imagine the impact on the people affected in this amount of money being taken from them, all the things they had to do without and all of the other bills that went unpaid. Where was the Central Bank in all of this and why did it not act sooner?
I fully support the Sinn Féin motion which calls for the Central Bank, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to co-operate, with a view to establishing if individuals, as well as corporate entities, can be held accountable for their part in this scandal. From the start, the scandal has been shrouded in secrecy on the part of the banks, the Central Bank and those appointed to conduct the review. There have been no criteria, no openness and no information. It is all being done behind closed doors. Why is the Bank of Ireland stating staff with tracker mortgages are not eligible? Customers still do not know where they stand. Some people have received letters, while others have not. It is past time for some honesty, accountability and transparency. The arrogance and foot dragging of the banks are disgraceful. I guess that this is the reward we get for giving the bankers a gentle slap on the wrist wrapped in €64 billion of citizens' hard-earned money and that of those yet to be born. Perhaps the Icelandic approach would have resulted in a change in behaviour on the part of the bankers. Will the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to come before this House to debate the issue of tracker mortgages and, in particular, commit to a strict deadline for issuing compensation.
I wish everybody a belated happy new year. I know that I am a month behind, but it is my first time back.
I received a telephone call yesterday from the mother of a lovely young lad called Shane O'Farrell who was killed in a tragic road traffic accident in County Monaghan on 2 August 2011. He was 23 years of age and had completed a law degree in UCD and a master's degree in law in Trinity College Dublin. He was just about to start work at the European Parliament. He was killed in a hit and run accident by a foreign national in breach of bail conditions, who had 42 convictions and was known in three jurisdictions at the time. Shane's family believes his death was preventable. To date, 59 complaints have been submitted to the GSOC inquiry into his case and the O'Farrell family has received no response. The case has been with GSOC for four and a half years, yet there has been no result. That is completely unacceptable. It is unjust that the family must go without answers. The difficulty the family have experienced through losing an only son is horrendous. It is disrespectful to leave them with no response on Shane's case. The delay is causing ongoing trauma for them. The man in question is known to Interpol. His convictions include convictions for road traffic offences, drug offences and theft, to name but a few. At the time he killed Shane, he was on bail from the Circuit Court in Monaghan, Dundalk and Cavan, as well as the court in Newry. He continually reoffended and breached his bail conditions. From reading the files on the case, there appear to be irregularities in the interactions between gardaí and the accused. The O'Farrell family believes there were multiple failures on the part of An Garda Síochána before and after Shane's death and question decisions made by the Director of Public Prosecutions. They believe a statutory investigation is the only way their questions will be answered. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to hold a statutory investigation into Shane's case?
Today's edition of The Irish Times carries a report on bogus marriages. I compliment An Garda Síochána and the public servants in the Department of Social Protection who introduced the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 that allowed An Garda Síochána to tackle this issue. Not only has it reduced the number of bogus marriages in Ireland but it has also had a positive effect for women from Portugal and eastern European countries who were being exploited by being trafficked into Ireland to participate in bogus marriages. It was a very good job of work on the part of the previous Government. I had the honour of bringing that legislation through this House and the Dáil and it has proved itself to be a job well done.
Air pollution, particularly in Dublin, was mentioned. Bogus marriages were dealt with through a strategy and proper legislation. The issue of air pollution represents the opposite where policy change has encouraged an increase in the number of diesel cars on the roads, particularly in cities. This has significantly damaged the health of people living in urban areas. We now have highest number of registrations of diesel cars in Europe. Over 50% of all new cars are diesel and they are not really suitable for use in Dublin. Many European cities are now looking at banning such cars. I am disappointed that the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government did not carry out the proper research when they encouraged the increase in the number of diesel cars on the roads. This is damaging the health of many citizens. The Department of Finance's proposals were published prior to the last budget and stated we should look again at this issue and bring forward policies to reduce the number of diesel cars to improve health and undo the damage caused by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government.
I congratulate Limerick woman Ruth Negga on her nomination for best actress in this year's Oscars. Even though she was born in Ethiopia, all her family live in Dooradoyle in Limerick. The Malone family are absolutely ecstatic about her nomination. Ruth has always said she is from Limerick. Her mother was a nurse in Ethiopia when she met her father and Ruth lived there for a number of years, but she always comes back to her Limerick roots and family. The fact that so many Irish people have been nominated for Oscars and that Ruth has been nominated for best actress has inspired me to ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to come to the House to debate how we can enhance film production in Ireland. Troy Studios in Limerick is based at the old Dell plant, has 350,000 sq. ft. of studio space and is the second largest studio outside Dublin. Shannon Airport makes it very accessible. As this is an area Ireland is trying to enhance, I ask the Leader to bring the Minister to the House for a debate on the film industry and how we can help it.
Will the Leader invite the Taoiseach to come to the House to discuss Brexit? Today's edition of the Irish Independent carries an article that talks about a Brexit "shambles". I cannot understand why a country as affected by what happens in the United Kingdom does not have a dedicated Brexit Minister and Department. I suggest the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform be amalgamated. The United States only has a finance Department, as has the United Kingdom. Mr. Michel Barnier, the former French Foreign Minister, was appointed as the European Union's chief negotiator for Brexit.
The Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, will now have to seek the approval of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to invoke Article 50 and then the negotiations will commence around the end of March. Mr. David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, is leading a new Department, but we, in Ireland, have no dedicated Brexit Minister. When we negotiated the Single European Act, we had a dedicated Minister and Department. We are sleepwalking through the crisis.
I met Mr. Frans Timmerman, the first Vice President of the European Commission, on Monday last in Malta at a meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs, COSAC. I mentioned the possibility of relocating the European Medicines Agency to Ireland, which was also the subject of a Commencement matter earlier today. The view expressed by Mr. Timmerman was that we should take our place in the queue. Senator Frank Feighan and others are pushing for the agency to be relocated here from London and I fully support them in that regard.
We need both a Minister and a Department that are committed to the necessary day-to-day discussions and negotiations. Who is leading the negotiations in Ireland? Is it the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade? Is it the Minister of State at that Department with responsibility for European matters, Deputy Dara Murphy, or is it the Taoiseach? The Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, is not the main negotiator in Britain; Mr. David Davis is charged with that task. The President of the European Commission is not the main negotiator in the European Union; that job has been given to Mr. Michel Barnier. This issue must be considered very carefully, given that trade between the United Kingdom and Ireland is worth €1.2 billion per week and we share a 499 km border. This is the greatest crisis in the 100 years of our existence as an independent republic. I appeal to the Taoiseach to consider this issue now and set up a dedicated Department with a dedicated Minister in order that everyone will know to whom to go in the context of Brexit. I do not know to whom I should go to discuss Brexit related issues. Brexit is not just an issue for the Government. It will also impact on future Governments. If I were the Taoiseach, I would appoint the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, as our main Brexit negotiator and give responsibility for finance to someone else. Brexit is the most important issue and he is the one Minister who has gravitas and enjoys respect within the European Union.
I again refer to the forthcoming elections in the North. I refer, in particular, to a comment made by the Leader in the House yesterday. While I acknowledge that he is a politician who has taken a genuine interest in the North for some time, I take issue with his characterisation of the election in the North as potentially one of orange versus green.
I did not say that.
The Leader did say it.
No, I said I hoped it would not become that. That is what I said.
Let me be clear. When Sinn Féin talks about the election in the North and when it calls for a Bill of Rights for all citizens, that is not a green card but a progressive politics card. When we call for equality proofing of budgets, that is something on which everyone should be able to agree. When we call for full equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community and women, we are engaging in progressive politics in the true sense. Of course, Sinn Féin has a vision of an all-island republic, but, to be fair, should every party in this Chamber not have such a vision? At the weekend we had the Towards a United Ireland conference at which the very well respected Unionist commentator, Mr. Alex Kane, asked where Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in terms of their vision of what a united Ireland would look like because we had not heard from them. They were not my words but those of a respected Unionist commentator. I appeal to everyone in this Chamber not to engage in stereotypes regarding green versus orange-----
The Senator should have heard his colleague yesterday.
Let us be clear - he certainly did not do that. I am proud to stand behind Sinn Féin's vision of progressive politics and a progressive new Ireland. I would welcome constructive engagement and debate on the issue, but to date, none of the conservative parties has had anything constructive to state in that regard. Where are their policy documents on a united Ireland? This project is well under way and in the aftermath of Brexit, it is more likely to move more quickly than some might think. Let us have a debate on it. Let us call in the appropriate Minister - the Taoiseach - to have a debate on where we all stand on a new Ireland and progressive politics in every county.
I wish everybody good health for the coming year.
Yesterday I heard a lot of talk about the rural and social development fund. I welcome the sum of €60 million that has been earmarked for rural Ireland. I wish to talk about the area I know best, namely, retailing in rural towns and closed shops. There are three major issues that need to be addressed in that regard, namely, planning, parking charges and rates. The local authorities must start listening. The development of out-of-town shopping centres has been detrimental to rural town centres. Most of them have free parking spaces for up to 500 cars. In the middle of rural towns, however, where family-run businesses are trying to survive, we have parking charges. Planning permission is granted for free parking on the outskirts of towns, but parking charges are imposed in town centres. In England there was a similar situation 15 or 20 years ago when out-of-town centres were built outside cities such as Birmingham, London, Manchester and so forth which decimated the city centres. Now one cannot receive planning permission in England for an out-of-town shopping centre. The government is providing incentives for developments which will rejuvenate town and city centres. We have moved in the opposite direction and been allowing out-of-town shopping centres to be built. I have no problem with the likes of Aldi, Lidl and so forth coming to any town. That said, we must think of the other shopkeepers who have been in a town for a long time. We must also think of town centres. It is terrible to see 15 or 20 closed shops on the main street in towns such as Castlebar because of out-of-town shopping centres. If local authorities are going to continue to grant planning permission for out-of-town centres, the parking charges that apply in town centres should be scrapped because they constitute unfair competition. Parking charges should be abolished in the middle of rural town centres if the local authority grants planning permission for an out-of-town development.
The other issue is commercial rates, on which we have done nothing this since the 1800s, although we did help a number of GAA clubs when issues arose a number of years ago. I have seen countless business people being dragged through the courts on the issue of rates. It must be addressed as we move forward.
I wish to raise a matter of major importance, namely, the defrauding of the State through below-cost selling. This is most prevalent among supermarkets and large retailers. When Tesco, Aldi or any other large retailer sells 24 cans of alcohol for €20, while a nearby retailer is selling at the recommended price of €30, there is a 35% loss of revenue to the State on the €10 differential. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, to come to the House to discuss this issue in the context of tackling the problem of alcohol abuse. The place to start in that regard is the below-cost selling of alcohol, which is a serious issue. It is costing the State a lot of money in lost tax revenue. It is also causing problems in the health service in filling hospital beds. That is the place to start.
I had intended to raise a different issue, but following on from Senator Aidan Davitt's interesting contribution on the below-cost selling of alcohol, I agree that intervention is needed in this area. Something must be done to stop below-cost selling and the best way to do it is to reintroduce the groceries order.
It was ended by Deputy Micheál Martin back in the day, but it should not have been. Alcohol was allowed to become a market driver. People were attracted into shops to buy cheap alcohol, the knock-on effect of which was below-cost selling. The groceries order needs to be resumed to deal with this issue. When Deputy Micheál Martin ended it, he drove this issue-----
In fairness, bread and milk were the issues at the time, not alcohol.
When he drove that issue-----
There were no other retailers such as Aldi or Lidl in the market.
No interruptions, please.
I agree with Senator Tim Lombard's point, but he is not making it correctly.
Deputy Micheál Martin drove people into below-cost selling which caused a major issue.
The Senator is not making his point correctly.
I remind both Senators that the Bill is on the Order Paper and will be fully discussed. Therefore, I will not allow a Second Stage debate on it now. The Senators will have their eight or ten minutes on the issue in the coming weeks and ample time to table amendments.
I look forward to the debate and contributing to it. We must address the kernel of the matter. It cannot be the case that people can buy alcohol more cheaply than water. That is a major issue. We must put a floor on pricing and the only way to do it is by reintroducing the groceries order.
Last week I formally submitted proposed legislation, namely, a declaration of independence day Bill. It would formally recognise the crucial and historic events that were the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil and the declaration of independence, made on 21 January 1919, and ensure the designation of 21 January as our declaration of independence day. Given that the 98th anniversary has just passed, it is timely and important that this legislation be in place well in advance of the 100th anniversary in two years' time. Last year's successful year-long 1916 Rising centenary commemorations saw more than 3,500 events held in Ireland and 1,200 abroad. They have introduced a new generation of Irish people to the events of 1916 and their impact on the nation. I have always been struck by how the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil and the declaration of independence on 21 January 1919 have not been commemorated to the level they should. On the 90th anniversary in 2009, a fantastic commemoration was led in the Mansion House by the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen. To ensure 21 January is officially recognised as our declaration of independence day, I have drafted legislation and will seek Senators' support in seeing it through the various Stages. There is no plan to designate a public holiday, but if we passed the legislation, it would allow schools, public bodies and community groups an opportunity to commemorate an important day in an appropriate way. In proposing the Bill I am conscious of the need to adopt the correct approach so as to ensure 21 January 1919, a truly historic day for Ireland, will be given the recognition it deserves. I intend to hold a formal briefing in Leinster House for Members on the proposed legislation and hope they will be in a position to attend.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised cross-Border health issues, for example, charging people who present at an emergency department in Enniskillen. There has been a great deal of co-operation in the health service. I understand that in recent years 53,000 people have been treated in this way. If there are irregularities, though, they must be addressed. An air ambulance based in Athlone has saved many lives in rural areas in the west and midlands. There is now an air ambulance service based out of the former Maze Prison. We need further co-operation, North and South, to cover areas in need. I look forward to the Departments doing so.
Senator Paul Gavan was right about the call. I watched the conference on a united Ireland with interest. When I chaired the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and also the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I used the term "united Ireland" constantly. However, while I will not call it offensive, some people from another tradition are wary of a united Ireland. I noticed how, when stepping down, Mr. Martin McGuinness called for "Irish unity". It is a much better phrase. I would like to use the phrase "one Ireland" or "an Ireland together". Either way, I agree that having a debate is necessary. This is not just a North-South matter but also an east-west one. I come from the tradition of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement. The island of Ireland has taken significant steps, but all sides, including the co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement - the British and Irish Governments - need to be involved. I welcome Senator Paul Gavan's helpful submission.
Naturally, we debate Brexit every day at macro level and in terms of the practical steps that could be taken to mitigate the possible fall-out. As a practical measure, I wish to make a proposal that there be investment in transport infrastructure. We should seek a derogation from EU state aid rules or provide a temporary framework. There is a precedent. Ireland West Airport Knock in my area is being hindered in expanding because it cannot manage to match some of the funding available from the European Union. It is being asked for 25%, but it is seeking a derogation on a figure of 90%. The airport does not have money and is in debt, but it wants to grow infrastructure that is important for the area. Something needs to be done about the state aid rules in order that intervention and investment in transport and other infrastructure would be allowed. I invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to explore the matter with the House. Certain other strategic businesses such as in the agrifood industry which will be affected severely could benefit from a temporary derogation or a framework for state aid. When we have good ideas, we are often told left, right and centre that we cannot pursue them because of state aid rules. We are approaching a critical time for the economy and our future and my proposal would allow for a practical debate to take place. Every Department is playing a role. Infrastructure is important.
I was concerned to read in this morning's edition of The Irish Times that, according to recent RED C research, Britons who intended to holiday in Ireland would be staying for considerably shorter periods and spending much less money. That surprised me. According to Tourism Ireland, 40% of our overseas visitors come from our neighbouring nation and, with the inevitable fluctuations in currency exchange rates, that 40% will be more inclined to holiday within the United Kingdom as opposed to Ireland. This will have a knock-on effect on tourists from the Continent and further afield who may opt for UK destinations instead. During the past six years the Government has met with unparalleled success in promoting Ireland as a tourism destination. In particular, 2016 was a fantastic year, with 8.9 million overseas visitors, representing an increase of 11%. However, Brexit presents the greatest challenge to our tourism success story. The tourism sector could quickly find that its foundations are built on quicksand if Ireland does not continue to prove to be an attractive and competitive place for holidaymakers. It would be prudent for the Leader to arrange for the Minister to attend the House in early course to outline the Government's strategy for promoting tourism, with specific reference to the fall-out from Brexit.
I thank the 16 Senators who spoke for their contributions on the Order of Business.
I share Senator Catherine Ardagh's concerns about the help-to-buy scheme and thank her for raising the matter. The scheme was established by the Government to help first-time buyers, given the critical difficulties in the market. The Government made no apologies for doing so because it wanted to promote home ownership and allow people to buy.
Any roadblock should be ironed out and the scheme immediately changed. It is important that we allow for it to work and, if there are teething problems, for them to be ironed out. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue. In order to expedite the matter, I suggest the Senator table a Commencement matter on it because it is important and I share her concern about it.
Senators Catherine Ardagh and Kevin Humphreys raised the issue of air pollution and referred to the impact it was having on the lives of many homeowners and residents in the city of Dublin, in particular. It is a source of concern that in 13 of the areas mentioned air quality is inadequate. It is important that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and the Environmental Protection Agency be allowed to work together on the matter. It is clear that there is a need to consider other initiatives and schemes for diesel cars, as Senator Kevin Humphreys rightly said. There is a proposal to ban the use of diesel cars in some European cities. The Government has taken initiatives to improve the quality of vehicles, but it is a good idea to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell, Michelle Mulherin and Terry Leyden referred to Brexit. In the context of the cross-Border health initiative mentioned by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, there is very strong North-South co-operation on arrangements and protocols in the health sector. Senator Frank Feighan made a similar comment. I will be happy for the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss the matter raised by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. If he has a specific medical care issue, he can come back to me because there is a very good North-South relationship, with people being treated for various conditions in hospitals in County Donegal, Altnagelvin and Craigavon.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the scandal of tracker mortgages. All of us in the House support the people with tracker mortgages who were affected. They were the unwilling victims of the crisis. However, the Senator did not mention that the finance committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas was investigating the matter. The Governor of the Central Bank was before the committee prior to the Christmas recess. The Central Bank is undertaking an investigation and that work is under way. The report will be brought before the committee. The Governor of the Central Bank will also come back to it. It is important that people be put on the correct rate. As the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, said last night, people should be punished for wrongdoing in that regard. It is a little opportunistic of the Senator to come into the House this morning and not give credit to the Oireachtas for the work that is under way. We all share the sentiments underlying the thrust of the motion that those with the wrong mortgage, the victims, should not be penalised and that people should be taken to task for what has happened.
Senator Frances Black referred to the very tragic death of Shane O'Farrell. I join her in sympathising with his family and will ask the Tánasite and Minister for Justice and Equality to reply to her request. I do not know what the up-to-date position is, but any measure that could give solace and comfort and a sense of closure in the investigation of the cause of death should be considered. I cannot give any commitment, but I will ask the Minister to liaise with the Senator on the matter.
Senator Kevin Humphreys raised the issue of bogus marriages. I join him in commending all those involved in dealing with the issue. I pay tribute to him because in his former guise as a Minister of State he was very proactive in dealing with it. We also worked together on it. We must be very vigilant because, from the events at Dublin Airport this week, there are many ways by which people try to come into the country and stay here. The Senator has, therefore, drawn attention to a very important issue.
Senator Maria Byrne mentioned Ruth Negga and her Oscar nomination. I wish her well and hope she will secure an Oscar. I will be happy to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs come to the House to discuss the arts.
Senator Terry Leyden also referred to Brexit and asked who was involved in the negotiations. The Taoiseach is the lead person in the Government.
That is the problem.
The Taoiseach has appointed Mr. John Callan as a second Secretary General to lead a new division in the Department on Brexit. It is important that we put Brexit in context. The Government is not standing idly by on the issue. The Taoiseach is not sitting in his office twiddling his thumbs. He is travelling throughout Europe and negotiating quietly and effectively with other European and world leaders. It is important that we remain committed to securing a very good deal for the country. I accept that there are huge challenges facing it. Those of us who attended the briefing by IBEC this morning and understand the issue from our dealings with various organisations realise it is important that there be a co-ordinated approach. I accept that Senator Terry Leyden is involved in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but it is important that we do not try to score political points. We must ensure we retain a strong interest in the context of the North but equally in the context of the component parts of the economy.
Why is Mrs. Theresa May not taking control of the negotiations on Brexit instead of giving it to a Minister?
I cannot answer for the British Government.
I am not criticising the Taoiseach.
It was a cogent point.
Thank you. It is appreciated.
The Government has a clear and comprehensive plan on Brexit. What we must do is protect and advance the country's interests, whether it be trade, the economy, Northern Ireland, the peace process, the issue of a physical border, the common travel area or the future of the European Union. We are very clear on what we are doing. Fine Gael is a member of the European People's Party, the largest grouping in the European Parliament. To be fair, we have had discussions and will have further discussions on how, as a House, we can progress Ireland's case and cause. I will be happy to work with everyone to that end. If Senator Terry Leyden has suggestions to make, I will be happy to pass them on. I am not trying to minimise his contribution or denigrate him in any way-----
It is a genuine view that I hold.
-----but it is far too serious and important an issue for Members to come into the House to try to score political points, although I do not say that is what he is trying to do.
No, I am not.
Senator Paul Gavan spoke about the elections in the North. I think he completely misrepresented the point I made yesterday. I understand that in the cauldron of election battles people take positions, but what I said yesterday was that language was important and that the contributions of certain Senators yesterday were very political and one sided. I have always taken the view that we must take an all-island approach to the North. It is about the people of the North having their say in who they should elect to the Stormont Assembly. The point I made was that I hoped people would not wrap a green, white or orange flag around them but that they would represent their communities and campaign in free and fair elections. I do not agree with the Senator's point that the Government is remiss. It is working to achieve continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and ensure the continuation of the stability and peace that have been brought to the North. We will work with all sides in that regard. I do not want to see people engage in a stereotypical debate. I have good time for the Senator, but I challenge him to look at the record of his party's members in pursuit of the LGBT agenda, in particular, to see what was achieved.
Senator Ray Butler referred to the rural development fund. He made a very important point about planning, parking charges and rates. I will be happy to have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government come to the House for a debate on the issue.
Senators Aidan Davitt and Tim Lombard raised the issue of below-cost selling. As the Cathaoirleach rightly said, the Minister was ready to bring the alcohol Bill before the House. It is important that we all understand alcohol is a market driver. We should all unite on measures to see it being diluted because none of us can excuse the fact that per unit alcohol is now cheaper than water. Senator Tim Lombard is correct that it was the abolition of the groceries order that led to this happening.
I commend Senator Keith Swanick for introducing the Bill to highlight the importance of the date 21 January 1919. It was an historic day. At the risk of introducing a discordant note, I do not think it should be considered to be declaration of independence day because I do not think we are all independent yet. We have yet to achieve a 32 county Ireland, of which I am a very strong proponent. However, we should all support what the Senator is trying to do because that date in 1919 is a very important one for the country. Senator Frank Feighan also raised the matter.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the very topical issue of state aid rules. I will be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House to discuss it. One of the points made at the briefing by IBEC this morning was about infrastructural investment, state aid rules and public private partnerships.
We must examine how we can address the deficits in infrastructure. In that regard, we will need to revisit state aid rules, the funding available from the European Investment Bank and public private partnerships.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to tourism and, in particular, the findings of the RED C research mentioned in today's edition of The Irish Times which indicate that tourists from the United Kingdom will stay for shorter periods and spend less money. It is important to state the tourism sector has experienced huge growth in the past few years. This and the previous Government have probably been the most pro-tourism Governments we have ever had. It is important that those involved in the industry play their role, including in pricing. As stated by the Senator, prices must be attractive and competitive. Those of us who stay in hotels know that their rates and food prices have increased exponentially. We have all heard the stories told on various programmes about the cost of accommodation increasing when concerts and big games are announced. It is important that those involved in the tourism industry work with everybody else to ensure Ireland's product will remain competitive to attract overseas visitors. If I were a tourist and wanted to visit Ireland, I would be put off by the price of hotel accommodation in Dublin, for example. The Irish Hotels Federation and the tourism industry as a whole have a duty to work with the rest of us to ensure Ireland will remain competitive and attractive. The Government is willing to work them to achieve that end.
I welcome Mr. Adrian Hogan from Limerick who is in the Visitors Gallery. He has visited the local authorities in the 32 counties of Ireland and had his photograph taken with the mayors and cathaoirligh of many local authorities. I congratulate and thank him for the work he has done. I am sure the pictorial record which I understand will be incorporated into a book for publication will be a fitting legacy of his travels.