The Order of Business is No. 1, Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourn not later than 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; No. 2, Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 4.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Benefit Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016 – Second Stage, to be taken at 4.15 p.m. with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, entitled Report on the Rising Costs of Motor Insurance and the cost of insurance working group's report on the cost of motor insurance, to be taken at 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and the contributions of other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
I rise to acknowledge the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. The anniversary falls in a moment that is particularly complex in light of the internal and external challenges that face the European Union.
The economic and social benefits generated by the membership of the EU have been incalculable for Ireland. All we have to do is look at the visible investment that the EU has put into our roads network, the opportunities presented to small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland to access European markets, the explosion of European tourism due to low-cost travel and the common currency, the ease of mobility for our citizens to study and work across Europe and the list goes on. We also cannot forget the fact that for the past 60 years there has been peace in Europe and that the concept and reality of war has been unknown for more than three generations. For the past decade, however, the mood in Europe has changed with some countries feeling that the European Union has fallen below their expectations. This has materialised in a Brexit referendum in the UK and next week, the British Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 in a planned exit from the European Union.
The challenges that face the EU include globalisation, the technology revolution, the recent global economic crisis and the biggest political crisis, which has been generated by the vast migratory flows of people from neighbouring countries. Millions of people have abandoned their countries of origin and fled to Europe to escape oppressive regimes, grave political strains, climate disasters and poor economic prospects. They seek a brighter future in Europe. Unfortunately, the inward migratory flow has engendered fear in many Europeans and been one of the main stimuli in the Brexit campaign. I believe such a reaction was wrong and this is a view shared by many of my colleagues in this Chamber. The real reason for the fear is a lack of knowledge and I believe that fear to be unwarranted.
As we all know, Europe is changing. Ultimately the benefits of our EU membership massively outweigh any perceived concerns. I look forward to participating in the Brexit debate in the Seanad Chamber and, over the course of the programme, examining the White Paper that has been prepared by the EU on the future of Europe. I also look forward to debating our membership of the EU and how we can play an active role as a committed member.
The second issue that I wish to raise is legal aid. The legal aid system in Ireland is known as free legal aid but in fact is not free because there is a small fee, starting at €130, for those in receipt of standard social welfare payments. Many women, especially those in violent situations, stay in their homes and do not seek the protection of the courts due to the fee being too high for anyone surviving on a low income.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality attended a conference in Geneva the week after we passed domestic violence legislation. One recommendation made at the conference was to grant an automatic waiver to anyone who finds himself or herself in a domestic violence situation. I call on the Tánaiste to initiate such a waiver programme, as it would allow women in domestic violence situations to seek the protection of the courts. A waiver would remove a cost that acts as a barrier. I ask the Tánaiste to urgently implement the waiver as it will assist people in domestic violence situations.
Yesterday I advised that I might discuss issues relating to the Defence Forces here. Thanks to the kindness of the Leader in offering a debate with the Minister of State responsible, I shall defer my comments until the Minister of State is here.
Later on today we will discuss the insurance industry. An issue that is of particular interest to anybody sitting in this House is the impact an accident may have on a county councillor who performs his or her duties.
Members will recall that some time ago in County Donegal first responders had their insurance cover loaded with additional costs. We all know county councillors who drive hundreds of miles across their constituencies. If they were to be involved in an accident while on council business, would they be covered? I have not been able to get a definitive answer to this question. Furthermore, if they were to be involved in an accident and injured in some way-----
I remind the Senator that there will be a debate on the subject of motor insurance later.
I understand that, but we will not be discussing this specific issue.
I am saying it in the interests of avoiding repetition.
The other question is that if they were to suffer a personal injury, would they be covered? This is something that is particularly-----
The Senator would be quite entitled to raise that issue during the debate on motor insurance.
The debate will be more general, but-----
No, I can assure the Senator that the Chair will allow him to raise the matter.
I wish to make one final point on the issue of free legal aid. I received a telephone call this morning to advise me that a person had been buried in a gold-plated coffin with a Rolex watch. His partner is now looking for free legal aid, having been caught engaging in criminal activity. Where are we going? I fully appreciate the necessity to provide free legal aid for those who need it, but I would welcome a debate on the issue and whether the scheme is being abused.
I send a message of solidarity to the families of Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormbsby, Mark Duffy and Ciarán Smith to let them know that they are in our thoughts and prayers. I also commend the ongoing rescue effort off the coast in Blacksod Bay which is now entering its tenth day. As each day passes, the stress on the families, as well as members of the Irish Coast Guard, the Naval Service, An Garda Síochána, the RNLI, the Air Corps, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and other agencies, increases. The massive collective effort is testament to their courage and professionalism. I also thank local fishermen and the local community for all they are doing on a daily basis to help the families and assist in the efforts to recover the crew of R116. I particularly thank the commander of the LÉ Eithne, Brian Fitzgerald, for his hospitality and all he and his crew are doing to enable the missing crew members of R116 to be reunited with their families. I wish them well in their search again today.
My party colleague, Deputy Martin Ferris, asked by way of a parliamentary question for a simple statutory instrument to be enacted by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to place the Irish Coast Guard, which is leading the search, on a statutory footing. In his reply to the question, the Minister states he is happy with the current legislative arrangements and that he sees no need for extra measures. In that context, I ask the Minister if he has listened to the members of the Irish Coast Guard. Has he heard the concerns they have voiced about helicopter provision and the security of sites around the country? Is he aware of the need for the Irish Coast Guard facility in Belmullet to be upgraded? I ask that he be invited back to the House, in the light of the recent tragedy, to discuss the urgency attached to dealing with all of these issues.
It came to my attention approximately two weeks ago that Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, intended to have all of its access programme students Garda vetted. The programme aims to provide second-chance education, often for students from poor socio-economic backgrounds. What is happening is alarming and discriminatory. Dublin Institute of Technology is singling out a cohort of students and determining, for some reason, that they need to be Garda vetted. I wrote to the president of the institute, Professor Brian Norton, whose response was unsatisfactory. He admits that, in terms of the blanket collection of data, only 10% of the students will undertake restricted access courses. They will be Garda vetted when they start their degree programmes. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Dara Murphy, who has responsibility for data protection, to come to the House to discuss the issue because I believe Dublin Institute of Technology is in breach of data protection laws? In the response I have received from Professor Norton he admits that the information is being collected on the basis that it "might" be relevant for a percentage of students in the future if they choose to continue their studies in the institute. Under sections 2A and 2B of the Data Protection Act, sensitive personal data may only be collected where it is necessary for a particular purpose. It is clear that Garda vetting in gaining access to education is not necessary for a particular purpose. I have written to the Data Protection Commissioner to request that his office look into the matter. I have also written to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission about it. However, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Dara Murphy, both have a role to play, particularly given the promises made by the former to increase access to education for those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. This measure is counterproductive in the context of the work the Minister is trying to do in this regard. If I were telling the House that a group of Travellers or non-nationals had been singled out for Garda vetting, Members would be saying it was racist and discriminatory. However, because this involves class discrimination, the matter is not receiving the attention it deserves. It merits a conversation. We should request that Dublin Institute of Technology reverse this decision and stop blocking young people from entering education.
There is a real need to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to come to the House to discuss what is happening in RTE. I know that a briefing is to take place today and understand we could see up to 300 job losses at the State broadcaster. Questions must be asked about the sustainability of the organisation and the investment needed. I become very concerned when I hear of job losses of that level. One must worry about the structures of the organisation in the context of the director general's remarks to the effect that the losses incurred last year were the result of the "unforeseen" general election. It is my understanding general elections take place every five years. The fact that Ms Forbes said the general election in 2016 was unforeseen leads one to question her capability. We must also examine salary levels in RTE. Approximately €2.6 million is being spent on the top ten earners and we must ask if the money could be better spent.
The Minister must also come to the House to discuss the issue in the context of the housing crisis, particularly in Dublin. We cannot operate in silos. The land at Montrose is State-owned. There is talk of building 500 housing units on the 8.5 acres of land RTE is proposing to sell, but only 10% would be social housing units. The State broadcaster certainly needs further investment, but the city also needs housing units. We need social and affordable housing units, as well as affordable rental units. On lands owned by Dublin City Council there is a 50:50 carve up, with 50% being market units and the other 50% split between social and affordable housing units and affordable rental units on a ratio of 3:2. We need to look at a similar model for the site at Montrose. We cannot have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government operating in one silo and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment operating in another. We need an additional housing supply across the spectrum in Dublin city. The Minister must come into the House to discuss the future sustainability of RTE and how it is financed, as well as the sale of State lands and how they should be used for the betterment of society in general. The proceeds should not just be reinvested in the structures of RTE.
Concern has been expressed about the high avoidance rate of the television licence fee, which stands at over 13%. Questions must be asked about An Post and whether it is actually doing its job in collecting licence fee income. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss all of these issues?
Yesterday in the Seanad I raised the issue of Indaver and the decision of An Bord Pleanála to adjourn its decision on Indaver, the toxic incinerator proposed for Cork Harbour. It has now been adjourned four times. I read today in the newspapers that it has been adjourned due to an issue or a query regarding the suitability of this site due to possible impact on the use of Haulbowline naval base by the Air Corps. An Bord Pleanála said that it has looked for clarification because there is an issue regarding the aviation capabilities of helicopters landing in the site in Haulbowline if this incinerator is built. If that is the reason we have seen it postponed for a fourth time, An Bord Pleanála should do the right thing and refuse this issue. It is a very serious issue that there is a doubt over the safety of helicopters landing at the navy base in Haulbowline. If there is any doubt over this, the project should be refused. This information was not available yesterday. It has been made available today. Indaver is proposing to put an incinerator right on the edge of Cork Harbour. The people in Haulbowline itself, their committed view and their experience tells us that it could be an issue regarding aviation safety. That is an issue that Indaver needs to move on, a decision that An Bord Pleanála should not defer but should refuse straight away.
This information was considered before the Rescue 116 tragedy in Mayo. The tragedy in Mayo compounds the need to look at this situation again.
I hope that on 15 May An Bord Pleanála will do what it should have done, which is to refuse this planning application.
On behalf of myself and Senator Conway-Walsh I would like to welcome pupils and parents from Corclough national school in Belmullet here today.
Today we read in the newspapers that Ireland tops the list internationally for people drinking alcohol at home prior to going to the pub, with 85 % of people engaging in this practice. Considering that one in three hospital admissions is a direct result of alcohol consumption, can I ask the Leader when is it proposed that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will come back to this House?
I wish to highlight that SIPTU is holding a protest at lunchtime today in regard to workers from the community sector. It is a sector that is in crisis in terms of funding and job losses. I would ask people from across the Chamber to come out and support our colleagues in SIPTU today.
I wish to raise the issue of income equality and perhaps ask for the Minister for Finance to come to the House to debate this issue. The ICTU has produced a wonderful document called "Because We Are Worth It". It details the pay of top CEOs in our public companies. Some of the figures are quite startling. With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I will read out some of the figures. The pay of the CEO of Grafton has gone up by a staggering 373% in the past six years. The CEO of C&C has had an increase of 238% over the same period, while Glanbia's CEO received an increase of 222%. The CEO of Ryanair received an increase of 203%. These are salaries in the region of €1.8 million to €2.4 million to €3.7 million. This is absolutely shocking. It is telling when Dan O'Brien, an economist very much on the right, has called for this report to be read and acted on-----
----- and in this report is a call to tax the wealth in this country that needs to be taxed.
And we complain about Enda Kenny's money.
Do not disrupt the Senator. He is in good flow.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. A TASC report, based on Government figures, shows that 10% of the population now own 54% of the wealth in this country, up from 44%. We have a crisis in income inequality. It is something that we do not talk about enough. These figures are scandalous. They contrast with the ten cent increase in the minimum wage this year. We need to have a debate about this. Ultimately, it is an issue for Government policy in terms of how we redistribute and tax wealth. I ask the Minister for Finance to come in and have a debate on that topic.
I want to raise the issue of the refugees coming to our town, Ballaghaderreen, yesterday. More than 70 people travelled from Balseskin down to the emergency reception and orientation centre in Ballaghaderreen yesterday. There was a hugely warm welcome for them. They have been in the country for a number of weeks. It was a real pleasure to be able to meet those people as they settled in. The community in Ballaghaderreen intends to play its part. We intend to support them as best we can. A friends of the centre group led by a number of local volunteers has been set up. The community have gifted both an indoor and an outdoor playground to the refugees, along with a lovely welcome wall. That is very tangible evidence of the community in Ballaghaderreen wanting to support them on an ongoing basis through volunteerism.
The most important thing now is that we get the education facilities up and running. The Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board has been very proactive in terms of recruitment of staff to support the centre. There are well over 30 children in the group that came down yesterday. It is important that primary and secondary education initially will be provided within the centre, along with adult education classes and a preschool.
There have been some difficulties with health funding. Further funding was made available about two weeks ago. I will be keeping a very close eye on it. It is very important that additional health and education services in particular, along with interpretation services, are made available. It cannot be from existing services because services in the area are already stretched.
I want to emphasise the very positive welcome that the Syrian people received yesterday and we continue to want to support them as best we can.
A committee seems to have been established to regularise dress codes in the Oireachtas. This is ridiculous. I generally wear a suit out of respect for the dignity of the place. I am not wearing one today because I have a broken arm. However, if one looks at the other House-----
It is a matter that the Dáil is dealing with. It has not come before the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It is with the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Yes. I am just commenting generally on the increasing bureaucracy that is around this place. Whatever one thinks of Mick Wallace and Richard Boyd Barrett, they are among the most brilliant contributors to the Lower House. There is a natural self-regulation. People are not going to come in wearing a bikini. If they did, they would be censured by the House and they would be expelled. I remember Cicciolina in the Italian parliament. There is far too much bureaucracy. We should remember that we have the dignity and authority of having been elected.
When I came in here about 30 years ago it was fairly amateur. People drifted in and out. It was very gentlemanly. I got blamed for pushing it in the direction of a full-time professional job. Now we have to fob in, but the Ministers who started this do not have to do so. In an age when work can be done remotely, it is demeaning to be treated like cattle. It is time we stood up against it.
There are the ridiculous restrictions on allowances which were given to us to make up for the fact that we did not take pay rises. People in the Civil Service who are our direct counterparts acknowledged this and got them streamed into their main pay but we did not. There was also the abolition of the long service increment. I do not know of another job in Ireland that does not get a long service increment. I believe it was illegal to remove that.
There is the question of sick notes. I have just had a fair amount of illness. Sick notes are averaged. This comes from the Department of Finance. It was not a ministerial thing at all. Some faceless bureaucrat decided that sick notes had to be averaged. They do not trust the doctors any more to say whether one is sick. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is time we stood up and asserted our dignity.
If we do not do our work effectively in Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann, the public will kick us out very soon. We got €311 in wage restitution - oh jolly, gee, wonderful, sucks, boo. I hope we do not all spend it on the same big bash. It is less than €1 a day. People are always criticising the Taoiseach for the amount of money he gets. Like my colleague, Senator Gavan, I have received a couple of pages listing the earnings of chief executives. Most of them get multiples of what the Taoiseach is paid. Regardless of whether we agree with the decisions being made by the Taoiseach, we must accept that he is making them for the entire country. The executives listed in the document mentioned by Senator Gavan are making decisions for one company. It is time for us to stand up against the tide of populism by saying that as professionals, we deserve the money we get. I suggest that the various allowances should be abolished. We should be given the proper rate for the job so that we do not have to waste time and our secretaries do not have to turn into accountants. When we send stuff off to the relevant personnel at the Standards in Public Office Commission, they come back to us with little niggly things. It is utterly demeaning.
I suggest that Standing Orders should be suspended-----
It is time we demanded respect.
-----so that the Senator can be given more time.
He is well over his time already.
I beg your pardon, a Chathaoirligh.
If the Senator has issues with the increments, etc., he may consider writing to the commission and I am sure they will be dealt with.
We will send them the Order of Business.
I suggest that rather than bringing Ministers in, we could get Senator Norris to address the House because he makes a lot of sense, speaks from the heart and tells many home truths. I fully concur with the sentiments he expressed.
I would like to raise a much more mundane local issue that is quite serious. Will the Leader raise with the relevant Department the fact that Edmonton national school in County Westmeath has been denied works and money under the summer school improvement scheme? It received a menial amount of money in response to last summer's application. It needs approximately €40,000 of restoration works. This is quite serious because teachers and pupils are being inconvenienced. The toilets have not been upgraded since the school was built in 1965. This is causing health and safety concerns. These works should be done immediately. I would appreciate it if the Leader could raise the case of Edmonton national school in County Westmeath with the Department.
I support Senator Norris in his suggestion that the body politic has damaged the careers of many politicians in economic terms over the years. I do not think many of the populist moves that were made necessarily resonated with the public in the way that might have been expected.
The World Health Organization, WHO, recently published a list of priority pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics. The list, which comprises 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health, highlights extremely dangerous bacteria that have built-in abilities to resist treatment. It is increasingly concerning that these bacteria can pass along genetic material that allow other bacteria to become resistant to drugs as well. The introduction of penicillin in the 1940s heralded the antibiotic era. We are now in the era of antibiotic resistance or antimicrobial resistance. I was shocked to read that, according to a recent review on antimicrobial resistance commissioned by the UK Government, 700,000 people across the world die from antimicrobial resistance-related infections each year. It is predicted that this death toll will reach 10 million by 2050, which would make antimicrobial resistance the world's largest cause of death, surpassing cancer. In the case of a woman in the United States that was documented recently, none of the 26 available antibiotics worked on the incurable infection - the superbug - that eventually killed her. We must address, as a matter of urgency, the fact that antibiotics will one day not work anymore. A four-year project is currently probing the potential of coatings that might repel and eliminate micro-organisms that come into context with everyday hospital textiles such as bedsheets and gowns. These antimicrobial coatings could also be used on solid surfaces like walls, floors, beds and tables. Although this endeavour is not a silver bullet, I believe the HSE should do everything it can to support it, especially when it is investing in new hospitals. I am calling on the Minister for Health to examine the list produced by the WHO and to allocate funding for research into the development of new antibiotics here in Ireland as a matter of priority. If the Minister for Health is coming to this House in the near future, I will be very keen to raise this issue with him.
Tá mé tar éis ceisteanna a ardú maidir leis na húdaráis áitiúla agus an cineál maoirsiú a dhéantar orthu ó thaobh na Roinne de. I would like to raise the way the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government oversees local authorities. Since we debated the Putting People First strategy, which proposed to give extensive new powers to the CEOs of local authorities, it has come to my attention that there are irregularities in Galway City Council regarding the income from parking meters. I have been informed that the discrepancy could be to the tune of a couple of hundred thousand euro. I am concerned that even though this was apparently brought to the attention of senior management in Galway City Council over three years ago, we did not find out about it until now. Why has the whole thing been kept a secret? I have also been told that all the machines in Galway are out of action, which means badly needed money is being lost to Galway City Council. People constantly come to my office to say they have issues with housing and estate maintenance, etc., but when I contact Galway City Council, I am told no money is available for such matters. The broader question of the level of oversight of local authorities that is in place within the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government arises in this context. Is there is a flagging system that ensures the Minister and the Department, as the overseeing body through which the Government provides funding, are told when things like this are happening? Is a criminal investigation pending in this scenario? My understanding is that it involves a new parking system which was put in place a couple of years ago. I think it is worth raising these issues with the Minister. Perhaps that can be done in the context of the review of the implementation of the Putting People First strategy.
I thank those who were able to attend the presentation on the International Protection Act 2015, which took place in the audiovisual room yesterday. We were told that there are serious implementation issues with the 2015 Act. Many speakers at the presentation said there are huge problems with the provision of legal support services to people who are applying for asylum as a result of the introduction of a complicated new 30-page questionnaire. We were told that Google Translate has been used to translate the questionnaire in a manner that is nonsensical to native speakers of the various languages involved. It appears that the only aspects of the McMahon report that are being implemented are the prosecutorial elements. It seems that the positive elements of the report setting out the changes people need are not being implemented. We need an urgent debate on this matter because these current issues need to be addressed quickly.
The Citizens Information Board's proposal to reorganise the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, at eight regional centres across the State is causing a great deal of concern. As the Leader is probably aware, there are 51 MABS outlets throughout the country. As everybody in this Chamber knows, MABS provides a great service to people who find themselves in financial difficulties such as mortgage arrears or debts of various kinds. The local MABS offices constitute a vital link between the local community and the main MABS office. If this proposal is to proceed - we certainly hope it does not - that link would be destroyed, which would be an awful pity. Staff members are in limbo and are facing uncertainty because they do not know what the future holds for them. I suggest that the proposed reconfiguration of MABS would be yet another attack on rural Ireland. No part of the country would be more affected than rural Ireland by this negative proposal. I plead with the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to ensure this proposal does not go ahead. If it goes ahead, it will be an attack on rural Ireland and the individuals who live in rural Ireland.
I understand that when the Minister, Deputy Harris, announces his eight-point plan today, he will propose to scrap the HSE and start all over again. I welcome this news because I think we could go back to the old health boards.
It is his intention to scrap the HSE and devolve the powers to local hospital groups and community groups. When we had the old health boards, there was a lot of accountability and people had local knowledge. Currently, the way the HSE is run is that it is a centrally based committee that is not working, because people do not know the actual issues in the hospitals in the local areas. I sat on one of those health committees for about a year when I was on the council. There was accountability. One could ask a question in advance and receive an answer that one could not question. There is a lot of reform needed in this area. The Minister is proposing to set up a much leaner national health agency. I know that he has a number of points in the plan. I think that having local groups responsible for their local hospitals and in return being responsible to a smaller and leaner committee will be the way for the future. I know that will be a long-term plan. The Minister is also proposing some changes to be brought to legislation as well to have more local accountability.
I know the matter has already been raised by my colleague, Senator Ruane, but I am extremely disappointed, to put it mildly, and quite upset about the decision of the Dublin Institute of Technology with regard to Garda clearance for students who are on access programmes. Having said that, I have great regard for the institute. I was a student of it nocturnally many years ago. It has given a kick-start and an opportunity to so many people who otherwise would not have had it. It is important to say that also. I have had many years' experience working with disabled people and people with mental health needs in trying to get them started or back on the road to education and training. That one needs to have a Garda clearance to go on these programmes is to start off with a stigma. It is saying to people that they are different. God knows a lot of them feel that enough already.
There is also another issue which is that some of the students on these programmes are international students. Are we going to need Garda clearance for people who are coming from the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil or wherever? It is madness. All of these students are interviewed before they come on these programmes. Therefore, there are ways to tease out suitability and I am not talking about any particular backgrounds that they may have. There needs to be an immediate halt to this approach and a rethink. No other students in that institution or in any other third level institution are routinely Garda vetted before they commence. It runs counter to the whole ethos of access. It is wonderful to see students with disabilities and with a whole range of backgrounds getting a chance to let their wings fly and move. We must value that.
I have a relatively brief point. I ask the Leader to raise, with the Minister for Health, I presume, the issue of the disabled drivers' medical board of appeal. If a person applies for disabled driver status and it is not granted automatically, there is an appeal mechanism in place. I have a letter here from the secretary to the disabled drivers' medical board of appeal thanking me for my letter supporting somebody's appeal. The person is appealing the process for not getting the status under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concession scheme of 1994. The response said that there are a large number of appellants on the waiting list and the waiting time is in the order of seven months. Regardless of whether a person wins the appeal, I think "outrageous" is a reasonable word to use in terms of this wait for disabled drivers.
The people applying for it are not doing so frivolously and genuinely believe they are entitled to it. Under the regulations, perhaps some of them are not. Regardless of whether they are, they should know within a period much shorter than seven months. I am sure that Senator Dolan knows an awful lot more about this than I do, but I believe that seven months for any appeal process is wrong. I would like the Minister for Health, or whoever the responsible Minister is, to come before the House, tackle the issue and point out to us how he is going to deal with it and reduce that seven months to a more appropriate period of a couple of weeks or whatever it should be. If people are going to be granted the status and miss out on seven months, their quality of life is seriously affected. If they are not going to get it, they should at least know that and not have to wait seven months for it.
Before I call Senator Burke, I acknowledge the presence of two councillors, Tommy Cullen and Tom Fortune, and their respective partners to the House. They are more than welcome.
On a good news point, it is interesting that the World Economic Forum now puts Ireland in the top seven countries for strongest democracies. We are joint sixth with Canada after Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark. It is a credit to the political system in Ireland that we are now regarded as the joint seventh strongest democracy.
Talking about democracy, my colleague, Senator Byrne, raised the issue of the HSE. I have pulled figures from the HSE on what has occurred. The Minister has announced an eight-point plan for slimming it down. I have raised this point before, but I must say that the number of people employed in management and administration over the past two years has increased by the total sum of 1,789. More than 700 of those have been in senior management. For instance, the number of directors has gone from 201 to 272. That is an increase of 71 directors, who are at the top end. That is an increase of 35%. The number of senior managers has gone up by 20.22%, which is an increase of 195 people. We are now talking about slimming it down. The HSE seems to be a juggernaut going down the road with no one in control.
Who is in charge?
I am really concerned about this matter. I believe that if we are talking about an eight-point plan, we should have a debate in the House as regards how we restructure the HSE. Someone should say to stop this juggernaut at this stage before we end up with 19,000 people. We had 15,000 people in administration and management in December 2014. We now have 16,901. At the rate we are going, by the end of this year we will have more than 18,000. I believe we need to have a serious debate on this issue when, in the same two-year period, an extra 39 public health nurses were employed, from 1,460 to 1,499.
The Senator has made his point.
We need a serious debate on this matter.
At the beginning, I apologise to the House as I must make an amendment to the Order of Business. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, has had to defer the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 today for a personal reason which I will explain later to Members. I move to withdraw No. 1 and take the other items on the Order of Business as outlined. We will suspend at the end of the Order of Business. I apologise to Members-----
Until 2.45 p.m. I will explain to Members later. This has just come to me now. My apologies for that.
On a point of order, is it not possible to take the other items immediately after the Order of Business?
No, on the basis of ministerial commitments.
I thank the 18 Senators who have-----
There seem to be very valid reasons the Minister, Deputy Zappone, cannot take that item today.
I am not challenging that at all. I completely understand and accept that.
Senator Ardagh raised the very important and topical issue of the anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. The summit in Rome this week is a very important one. The Senator is correct and I hope we will have a debate on the future of the European Union, not just within the Brexit Seanad committee, but as a House. Senator Ardagh is correct to raise the point that there is a mood change within Europe. We need to reflect upon that and the many issues she raised.
The White Paper on the future of the European Union, along with the achievements of the past, offer an opportunity for us to reflect on what membership of the European Union means and what direction the Union should take. The communiqué regarding the White Paper raises the point of what future we want for ourselves, our children and the European Union. In that context, given the triggering of Article 50 on 29 March next it is important that we continue to prioritise our position following Brexit in terms of trade, the economy, the peace process, the common travel area and our future within the European Union. The summit in April will be important and I hope we will all wear the green jersey on that occasion.
The issue of insurance raised by Senator Craughwell will be discussed tonight. Both Senator Ardagh and Senator Craughwell raised free legal aid. I will be happy to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to discuss that.
We join Senator Conway-Walsh in offering our compliments and thanks in respect of the community and voluntary effort being undertaken in Mayo. It is a very difficult time for everybody involved and especially for the families. We continue to pray that the three missing crew of helicopter R116 will be found and brought back to their families. I join the Senator in commending Commander Brian Fitzgerald and the crew of LE Eithne on the work they are doing. I am also happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to discuss the issue the Senator raised regarding the statutory instrument and the Coast Guard.
Senators Ruane and Dolan raised the Garda vetting for students on DIT's Access programme. I am not familiar with the situation. It might be more appropriate to raise it as a Commencement matter. The matters the two Senators raised are important because, as Senator Dolan noted, the Access programme has worked well. It does not sit well that we are introducing vetting for some people and not for others. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was in the House earlier to discuss Garda vetting. All of us wish to have proper vetting, protection of data and not to have people labelled or have a stigma attached to them. We also acknowledge the importance of, and need for, Garda vetting but there must be flexibility in how it operates. I cannot answer the Senators on the issue they raise but they should pursue it. They will have the support of the House on the matter. I can invite the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, to the House to discuss data protection in general.
Senator Humphreys raised the sale of RTE land valued at approximately €75 million. I agree with the Senator that the sale of State land should be carried out, because it is an asset. However, where the proceeds go is a matter for discussion because it is a matter of public policy. I understand from radio commentary and from the remarks of the director general who appeared before the Oireachtas committee recently that there is a need to return RTE to financial viability. I also believe that we must have a public service broadcaster.
We can argue about its quality or lack of quality. Yes, it is popular to knock the salaries of high earners - Senator Norris did a good job defending us here today - and it is necessary to examine how and what one pays people but we must have a public broadcaster that is independent and can produce not just news, sports and current affairs programming but also drama and coverage of arts, culture and all levels of Irish life. We should congratulate RTE because it provides a good service in many areas, even if we might not agree with its editorial policy at times. Senator Humphreys is correct that collection of the licence fee could be improved. He said that 13% of it is not collected-----
It amounts to €25 million per year.
That must be examined. We all grew up watching the TV sponger advertisements on the television and the threat of the van outside one's door. I remember those advertisements well. It is an issue we must consider. I agree that we should invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Lombard raised incineration and the Indaver application. During the oral hearing last year the Air Corps made a presentation on the flight path to Haulbowline and the location of this incinerator. There is a huge need to allay the safety concerns that were expressed at that hearing. In addition, if there is any doubt regarding the safety of Air Corps personnel or of any aircraft flying overhead, the application should be refused. I hope An Bord Pleanála, which is diligent in its assessment of the information, will reject the application.
To reply to Senator Swanick, I do not have a date for the sale of alcohol Bill. My most recent information is that it is with the Office of the Attorney General where it is undergoing scrutiny. However, I will refer back to the Senator on it.
Senator Gavan spoke about ICTU and income inequality. I accept that we need income equality and that we must raise people out of poverty. However, 140,000 taxpayers are paying more than 45% of the income tax and USC yield. That is €9 billion in cash and 18% of all tax collected. The top ten corporate taxpayers are paying €3 billion. As a nation, we are reliant on €1 out of every €4 collected in taxes. I remind the Senator that the last Government and this Government increased the minimum wage and took many people out of the universal social charge net. Now, people earning up €13,000 are paying no universal social charge, a third of earners are paying no income tax and 30% are paying no income tax or universal social charge. The most recent CSO figures show that annual disposable income increased by 6.2% in 2015 and that income is being more equally distributed in the country. Finally, 920,700 people are exempt from paying income tax. That includes the unemployed and pensioners. The question we should debate, which some members of the Senator's party oppose, is how we can increase the tax base whereby we can pay for services.
We are not opposed to that at all.
The Senator's party is for high spending and high taxes-----
Bring on the debate.
-----but it cannot live in that utopian bubble all the time. One must live in the reality.
You starve public services instead.
Senators should address the Chair.
The Senator should read Cliff Taylor's article in The Irish Times and other commentary on our dependence on foreign direct investment. If the Senator had his way, there would be no Apple in Cork, no manufacturing in the country-----
That is nonsense.
-----and no pharmaceutical companies.
That is not the point I was making.
The Senator cannot have it both ways.
I join Senator Hopkins in welcoming new members to the community in Ballaghaderreen. I thank the local people for the welcome they have afforded the new residents. I agree with Senator Hopkins that the education piece must be put in place by the Roscommon and Galway ETB. I will be happy to talk to the Minister about that.
Senator Norris raised a number of issues in his fine contribution. A dress code is not a matter for the Order of Business. I disagree with the Senator on that as I believe we should have a dress code. These are the Houses of Parliament and we are the people's representatives so we should be dressed accordingly. I accept that people can make their contributions regardless of what way they dress, but a dress code would be fitting for the decorum of the House. I agree wholeheartedly with the Senator on the pay and conditions of Members of all political persuasions. There is a race to the bottom and populism in terms of cutting pay, not having a long service increment and having to fob in. The Senator is correct about the new dispensation or new politics in the Lower House. Given that the Members do not vote on Tuesdays or Wednesdays there is, perhaps, no need for a Member to be present. I hope the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will examine this. It is ridiculous that we must fob in every day we are here-----
-----and I make no apology for saying that. I have no difficulty with being here. I had the highest voting record in the Dáil in the last Oireachtas, but it counts for nothing in the overall scheme of things.
Our job is not just about being in Dublin, in Parliament, in the Chamber or committees, but about other parts of our work. I know that some Senators claim we do not have a constituency, but I am sure for any Senator-----
It is a potential constituency.
-----with the exception of the six university Senators, if we were to adopt the policy that we have no constituency, it would be a different story. It is a point at which we need to look on a wider scale, given that we are Members of the Oireachtas and take our role seriously. There is a multifaceted approach to our job; as such, it is ridiculous that members have to use a fob I have said enough, but I agree with Senator David Norris.
Senator Noone raised an important point about the World Health Organization on the issue of antibiotic resistance. I will be happy for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House to discuss it.
I did not catch the name of the school mentioned by Senator Davitt in the context of the summer building programme. He might raise the matter in the Commencement debate or e-mail me about it.
If I understood him correctly, Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the oversight of local authorities. It is an important matter. I will be happy for the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
On the International Protection Act and the McMahon report on direct provision, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, is working on the implementation of the report. I was in a direct provision centre recently. We need to do a lot more to improve the quality of life of people living in such centres. We share a common approach to immigration, the way people are treated and in which applications are processed. I will be happy for the Minister of State to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Gallagher raised an important issue in the context of MABS. There was a committee hearing on the matter recently. It is a worry because MABS provides a huge service in communities and any dilution of the service, forcing people to travel further, would be regressive. I will be happy to have the relevant Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Byrne and Colm Burke referred to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, being before the Committee on the Future of Healthcare to discuss the eight point plan on the future of the HSE. We all recognise the need for change and reform of the HSE. In response to Senator Paul Gavan's prompting of Senator Colm Burke, the Minister is in charge and doing a job. The HSE has been given the biggest Vote in the history of the State this year for the provision of health care facilities and services, but there is a need for accountability. There is a need to have a management structure to get results for patients and staff.
It has taken six years to recognise that the HSE has to go.
In the recent Assembly elections I canvassed in the North and health was an issue for the people I met on the doorstep.
I accept that.
I do not see Sinn Féin's health document being widely published at this stage. It might publish and show it to us.
We have done that.
We will e-mail it to the Leader later.
I apologise to Senator Horkan. I was taking note-----
There will be several debates on health in the next few months.
I agree fully with the Senator that a seven-month delay is inordinately long when people require an access pass, sticker or licence to park. In some cases, the parking space can be outside someone's door, in a church car park or a shopping centre. The point raised by the Senator is important.
Senator Colm Burke referred to Ireland's ranking in the World Economic Forum's democracy index, which we welcome. The figures portrayed for the increase in positions in the HSE and its management structure beggar belief. It is important that there be a rolling debate on health.
I apologise again to Members for the change to the Order of Business. If it is agreeable, we will not take No. 1 first but suspend the sitting until 2.45 p.m. when we will take Committee Stage of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Is the change to the Order of Business agreed to? Agreed.