The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Companies Act 2014 (Section 1313) Regulations 2017, back from committee, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Health (Amendment) Bill 2017, Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 3, motion for earlier signature of the Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 to be taken on conclusion of No. 2; and No 4. statements on Northern Ireland to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 4.50 p.m.
Order of Business
I again call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to make some effort to intervene in the Bus Éireann strike. Yesterday I went outside the gates of Leinster House with some of my colleagues and met some of the decent, hard-working staff in Bus Éireann who are rightly concerned about their future employment status and the future of Bus Éireann. I cannot understand how the Leader's party can stand by a Government Minister who refuses to engage at any level with one of the most serious issues facing us today. We are faced with a situation where companies and local economies are affected, where some companies are paying privately to chauffeur their staff to and from work. This has an awful impact on Ireland as a place to do business. Especially with the triggering of Brexit yesterday, we need to sell ourselves as a place where a company can do its business with ease and not be hampered by basics such as a faulty transport system. We also have a situation where it has been reported that some private operators operating school runs are not being paid on time. This will have a cash flow implication for these companies and may put these routes in jeopardy. Having this type of impact on children's education, flowing from the Minister's inaction, is unacceptable.
With regard to the ongoing Garda controversy, we learned this morning that the Commissioner has apologised to the Policing Authority for failing to mention the breath testing audit, despite having met the Policing Authority six times over the past year. She also admitted that officers deliberately falsified driving statistics and she apologised in regard to the wrongful convictions. This has led to more questions that need to be answered.
The Commissioner also apologised for the scandals in the force over the last ten years. This is not enough. I call on the Minister to introduce a fast-track Patten-style reform as colleagues mentioned yesterday to immediately restore public confidence in the Garda Síochána and to assure those honest, hard-working gardaí that they can have confidence in their job and in the organisation for which they work.
I commend Joanne O'Riordan and the 100 disability groups who are protesting outside the Dáil today to acknowledge the Government's failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I fully support Joanne and I hope the Government and the Minister ratify this convention without delay.
Like my colleague, Senator Ardagh, I believe the transport situation has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. There has to be ministerial involvement at this stage. At the very least, the Minister could talk to the company and tell them to get back into the WRC and to remain there until such a time as they find a solution. To sit on the bench and refuse to play a part in this is not the way the world works. Many Ministers down through the history of this State have used their office to force organisations to come together with their unions and solve problems and that is something that will have to be done. Otherwise, there will be contagion of this problem and we will grind this country to a halt while we are trying to rebuild it. That is not the way forward.
However, I will talk about something good. Microfinance Ireland has provided finance for small companies throughout the country to get this country back to work. Setting up Microfinance Ireland and empowering it to lend money to small start-ups was one of the fine things done by the last Government. Alongside it, there are organisations such as the PorterShed in Galway which is an innovation and incubation centre. I visited it recently with the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and it is the most exciting place in which I have been in a long time. It is a hive of activity, where there is a complete exchange of views and ideas. It is an incredible place to be.
I raise this issue because when they were first established, the education and training boards, ETBs, were to have capital funding to provide seed capital for small start-ups. That was taken off them in the 2013 Act, which was a regressive step. The institutes of technology and the universities are phenomenal at providing research and development and providing incubation centres. There is an ETB in every county in Ireland and there is no reason why the ETBs could not be playing their part in the establishment of start-ups.
Coming from a teaching background, the Leader will know himself that there is many the young person who came out of a PLC course, as they were known, or a further education or training course, and found within himself or herself the ability to start up a small business. Small businesses can grow to very large businesses. The 1817 project in Chicago is an example of a small company starting off with one or two people and finishing up as big as the Googles, Facebooks and Twitters of this world. We need to put that kind of money into rural Ireland because it is unlikely that one will get any of the large companies there. Ten small companies employing five people each is 50 jobs no matter how one looks at it. Five jobs in a small town lifts the entire town because of the knock-on effect. Perhaps we might get the Minister for Education and Skills in here and see can we re-establish some form of capital for ETBs to provide seed funding for small start-ups.
There were millions lost on Project Eagle. The country is weary and fed up and I think we are weary and fed up getting up here day after day because of perceived skullduggery at all levels of this country. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has accelerated this. He needs to understand, and he seems to misjudge, the anger and ire of citizens who are faced with a tsunami of corruption, cronyism and those who believe they are untouchable. It is clear that the Minister has gone on the defensive. As an experienced politician he should have known to never have met with individuals from Cerberus, especially on the eve of the closing date for bids for Project Eagle. It is incredible. What is even more incredible is the Minister's sense of omnipotence and grandiosity in his threat to injunct the Committee of Public Accounts for doing its job.
He attempted to insult my colleague, Deputy Cullinane, branding him and my party fibbers. He is acting like a petulant teenager. This is a slur on the Committee of Public Accounts. The public looks to the Committee of Public Accounts and trusts it. It is the only way ordinary citizens have to get redress and to raise issues of corruption and skulduggery in this beleaguered State. It is a pity he is following in the footsteps of Denis O'Brien, Angela Kerins et al in attempting to strangle and smother the democracy of this country.
I thought we were not supposed to mention people.
The Committee of Public Accounts is the only point citizens have in this so-called republic for redress.
It is a republic.
It seems only the well-connected-----
Sorry, it is a republic.
I ask the Leader not to interrupt.
Leader, would you ever just dún do bhéal for a minute. Go raibh maith agat.
The Leader should have some manners.
It seems only the well-connected are allowed to attack the Committee of Public Accounts-----
It is a republic.
-----and those without golden protections embrace the committee as a voice for their truth and justice. The Grace case, the whistleblowers, the banks and the charities scandal ad nauseam have been addressed by the committee. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, is beginning to dote in his age. Perhaps he needs to rethink what he is saying.
I also want to raise the issue-----
That is an outrageous statement.
Who wrote that for you?
I wrote the script. Does the Leader have an issue with it?
I protect the Leader most days from interruption from the other side-----
You do. You are too nice to him.
-----so please allow Senator Devine to conclude.
Obviously, there are systemic problems with the Garda Síochána. I call for support for the motion of no confidence in the Garda Commissioner that will soon come before the Lower House. The Garda Síochána seems to operate in a parallel universe and it is no longer the case of one bad apple. We try to appease ourselves by thinking it is one bad apple, but the Garda Síochána lives in a parallel universe with parallel accounts, parallel checkpoints and parallel breath tests.
It is not the case of one bad apple, it is several bad apples in the barrel and it needs root and branch reform. I call on people to listen to and support any motion which seems to enable the Garda to become more respected in this country.
Kudos to the disability rights campaigners outside Leinster House. Yesterday, I attended Senator Dolan's call for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The campaigners are absolutely enlightening and enthusiastic and well done to them. It is much deserved for disability-proofing our society.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 17 before No. 1.
Another day and another call for something to be done on the Bus Éireann strike. Yesterday I spent an hour with four bus drivers who were very pessimistic. They are very worried about the future of their company and very upset about its mismanagement over a number of years. They spoke about the fact that senior management of the company changed recently. They also spoke about the background of those now overseeing the company. For all the faults of the previous management, the new management does not have the same interest in engaging with trade union leaders. They are worried about their jobs and about the future of public service transport in this country.
The point made to me was that it is time for the NTA to get involved. We are at the stage where the script is written for us to come to the House and ask the Minister to do something, to come to the House or to intervene in some way. He will not do it. He appears to have no interest in coming to the House or any House to address the fact no Bus Éireann buses are running at present. This is not a one-day strike here or a two-day strike there. It is an all-out strike. As I stated on Tuesday, this could spread to Dublin Bus, the other CIE companies and the school bus service. It is time for the NTA to get involved because it sets the context for public transport in this country. It oversees the entire CIE system and private operators. If the Minister will not do it, surely there is a role for the NTA to get involved. This is far too serious for it to be allowed to continue as is.
I am as guilty as anybody else in the House of personalising issues too much, but in this regard it is quite clear the Minister involved has a responsibility to those who use the service and who believe in public transport. I live in a part of the country which is not served by Bus Éireann with regard to day-to-day use of a bus service so I can speak with a level of independence on the issue. A number of bus drivers were outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday and I thought security was a bit over the top. I do not know why the barriers were put up in such an over the top manner but I will leave that where it is.
When will the political system react to this situation? The company will die if something does not happen. Are we trying to starve the drivers back to work? They will not go. The four gentlemen I met yesterday I am quite sure reflect the entirety of the Bus Éireann workforce. They are not going back to work in the current situation. This has gone beyond one-liners and personality-based politics and I plead with the Leader to make representations to the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come to the House and address the situation, and we can toss over ideas about how we can resolve this issue. In all fairness to everybody in the House, none of us wants to oversee a situation where next we have Dublin Bus out, then the trains out and then school buses not running and we all knew it was coming. I beg of the Leader to make representations to the Minister, Deputy Ross, in all fairness and in good faith to address the House on this issue.
I second Senator O'Sullivan's amendment to the Order of Business.
I welcome reports the bank JP Morgan is looking to relocate to Dublin post Brexit, with more than 1,000 possible jobs in a new building at Capital Dock. This is very welcome, but it goes hand in hand with the disappointing news that Lloyds of London has decided to relocate to Brussels post-Brexit. All of these are opportunities and difficulties which present themselves now the UK has officially triggered Article 50.
My colleagues and I on the Seanad select committee on Brexit are going through the issues, but we also need to address a number of societal issues and we need to have Ministers come to the House to hear the thoughts of the Seanad on these issues. The first of these should be the review of the capital programme being undertaken by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to the House to allow us have a strong debate on what strategic investment is needed throughout the country so we can offset the oncoming difficulties of Brexit and prepare our economy to capitalise where possible.
As Members of the House know, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust was established by Colin and Eithne Bell following the tragic death of their son Kevin, who was killed in an alleged hit and run accident in New York in 2013. Since then, the trust has helped many families whose loved ones have been tragically killed abroad and helped them bring home the bodies. It provides a vital service and I am sure all Members of the House, on behalf of the people of the country, would like to pay great tribute to Colin and Eithne for the fantastic service they provide to the citizens of the country and families who have been heartbroken by the tragic news of a sudden death abroad.
As Members know and appreciate, it costs thousands of euro to repatriate bodies from abroad. This expense is not covered by the Irish Government or the UK Government. One can imagine when family members receive that devastating phone call they do not know where to turn. Now, due to the good work of the Bell family, they have somewhere to turn. To date, more than 200 bodies have been repatriated thanks to Colin and Eithne Bell.
However, this work since the death of their son has all been done in the family home. Only a few months ago, back in late 2016, they opened up a new office in Newry. They attended a briefing session in the AV room last year at which they made a request to Members of the Oireachtas for two simple things. They made an application for charitable status two years ago and are still awaiting a decision. They were also seeking a small donation of €30,000 per annum to allow them to continue with their good work. Not one penny of the donations they receive goes to any personal gain - it all goes towards the trust. I ask the Leader to mention to the relevant Minister or Ministers that they are still awaiting a decision and to see if, somewhere in the Exchequer, €30,000 can be found to help them continue their good work on behalf of all families in this country.
I want to raise the issue of Irish Water and believe that the current committee is making good progress. According to reports in the media this morning, there is now great hope that the committee will have a consensus on finally doing away with water charges and everyone in the Chamber should welcome that. I commend my own party, especially my colleague Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on leading the fight on that in the Oireachtas and I commend the trade union movement and the Right2Water campaign, who have been absolutely solid. I also commend the hundreds of thousands who marched over the past number of years because it was people power that determined the end of water charges.
I remind people why we are opposed to water charges. It is because they represent regressive taxation. I was surprised that the Labour Party, in particular, never understood that it was regressive, toll booth taxation.
Tell that to Deputy Paul Murphy.
For people on the left to cite regressive, toll booth taxation as something we should support is frankly bizarre. Sinn Féin has always been consistent and if people check our policy, they will see that we have been opposed to water charges from the get-go.
Deputy Paul Murphy will vouch for that.
Deputy Paul Murphy will validate that as well.
We do not have water charges in the North.
A report is due on water charges and I do not want to reopen the debate now. The report will be fully debated in this House as there is a duty to put it before both Houses
I call on the Leader to ensure that happens as quickly as possible. I welcome the fact that, even though they had to be dragged kicking and screaming, we finally got Fianna Fáil to a place where they can align with us in getting rid of water charges. Fair play to the slow learners on my left.
At least the Senator left Fine Gael alone.
I also want to raise the Bus Éireann strike, which continues to wreak chaos on our public transport system, causing particular difficulties for rural Ireland commuters and tourists. We are hearing stories of shops in towns getting lower footfalls and we have to remember that striking workers are not being paid and, every day that goes by, Bus Éireann is haemorrhaging more money. We need a breakthrough because there is an impasse at the moment. I have met with a number of striking Bus Éireann workers, including drivers at the Ballina depot where I am from and outside the Dáil yesterday. Some specific issues are within Government control. It is contended that the free travel scheme, whereby people have free travel passes for buses, is underfunded. For pass holders the company gets 40% less than the full fare from the Department of Social Protection but the company is required to compete with commercial service operators. There is room for work to be done on this and I know it is being looked at. I urge the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Transport to iron this out, although it will only be part of the answer to the funding shortfall. The other issue striking workers raise is the fact that, on Expressway routes, Bus Éireann buses are required to stop in specified towns and villages while their competitors, private bus operators, do not have to. The way forward is to re-evaluate these routes and assess them as PSO services and the indications are that the NTA will go down this route. They are necessary services and therefore need to be funded by the Exchequer.
These two items will not resolve the company's woes and I would like both parties to engage. There is a place for all stakeholders and there is a part for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to play. At the very least, management has serious questions to answer, including over the fact that in the first two months of this year losses were 41% higher than last year. In addition, while workers are being asked to take a diminution in their take-home pay and their terms and conditions, there is no such proposal for management. There needs to be fairness and equity and management needs to be held to account for the way it has run the company. It has not gone to ground just in the past few weeks.
Today is the tenth anniversary of Ireland signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whereby it gave a promise to the world. Our reputation is on the line but, ten years later, we have not ratified it. Many people outside the front gate today want to see ratification. We have just received the new social housing figures for people with disabilities. In 2003, just shy of 4,000 disabled people were on the social housing waiting list but now it is just shy of 6,000, an increase of almost 46%. There is a housing crisis for people with disabilities and it is not just a recent crisis. There are 11,000 people under the age of 65 in nursing homes because we shaved away community supports and services, particularly in the time of the recession. We are talking about getting people out of residential centres and we are just churning people around. The CSO poverty statistics came out on 1 February and, thankfully, things are getting better for the general population but they are getting significantly worse for people with disabilities and their families. The recession in the general economy ended in 2013 but it has not ended for people with disabilities or their families.
The Leader comes from Cork so he will know the expression "face the puck out". We need to face the challenge today. Successive Governments have taken the view, which one could challenge, that certain legislation needs to be passed before ratification but there is nothing in the convention that says a State cannot get on with improving the life status of people with disabilities before it ratifies. A budget is coming up in October and Ministers and people in Departments are trying to sort out what they want. The time is here to put a decent cross-departmental disability package in place covering health, poverty, transport, housing and employment issues. Employment is a chronic issue and there were people at the presentation yesterday morning with degrees coming out of their ears who cannot get a job.
I agree with my fellow Westmeath man, Senator Gavan, that the good news about water charges is certainly welcome. I congratulate Senator Ó Céidigh and the members of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services on the hard work they have done on this issue. If everything we are hearing on water charges proves to be correct, our own hard-working champion of the people, Deputy Cowen, will also deserve to be congratulated. There is sometimes a need to stand up to the big bogeyman in Europe. I commend the committee on the work it has done in this regard.
In light of the Enable Ireland protest on Kildare Street, which has been mentioned by Senator Dolan, today is an ideal day to mention the promised upgrade of St. Mary's school in Delvin, County Westmeath. Local councillors, including Councillors D'Arcy, Shaw and Hill, have raised this matter ad nauseam over the past year, but to little avail. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Ministers for Health and Education and Skills because we need a firm commitment regarding the school in question. It has been suggested that the existing school might be upgraded or a new school might be built. This has been in the public forum for the last while. As far as I know, both Ministers have visited the school. I would appreciate it if the Leader could chase up this issue.
I welcome the decision of JP Morgan to come to Ireland. It is one of many companies looking at this country because they need to move their operations. It is not realistic to expect them all to move to Ireland, but we will certainly fight hard for each and every one of them. I am aware that other companies are seriously considering moving here too. Dublin Airport is connected to the whole of Europe. There are 120 flights per week from the airport to various locations in the United States. Some 28 million people passed through the airport last year. Dublin Airport has already secured planning for at least four buildings, comprising approximately 450,000 sq. ft. and capable of housing 4,000 employees.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, on fighting for and planning to bring the European Medicines Agency to Dublin. As a city, Dublin offers much of what the agency needs. Our greatest advantage from the perspective of the agency is that English is the language of medicine internationally and Ireland is an English-speaking country. We have very strong pharmaceutical, information technology and medical devices industries. This country's medicines agency is highly respected throughout Europe, to the point that if a device or a drug is approved here, it is accepted across Europe. The scene is set. Dublin Airport and the wider north Dublin area comprise an obvious place for the European Medicines Agency to be based. The facilities are already in place. The area has great connectivity to the city and the national motorway network. Land is available for the construction of new houses. Perhaps a new international school could be developed on the north side to meet the needs of people living in the area. Believe it or not, 20% of people in Dublin are international. Half a million Irish people are fluent in a second language. I am making the case for what is already in place in Dublin Airport to be used to bring the European Medicines Agency to our country. It would be an advantageous location in light of the connectivity between the north Dublin area and the UK and other parts of Europe. It should be at the top of the list.
I seek leave to introduce the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017, which seeks to provide the right to self-determination for trans young people who have reached the age of 16; to introduce a right to legal gender recognition for people under the age of 16, with family consent; and to ensure consideration of the status of non-binary persons in the consideration of the upcoming review of the Gender Recognition Act 2015, which will take place in September.
To comply with procedure, I suggest that the Senator should propose formally that No. 16 be taken before No. 1. The Senator will be able to propose the Bill itself after the Order of Business.
That is agreed. I propose that No. 16 be taken before No. 1.
I thank Senator Warfield.
I join my colleague, Senator Davitt, in anticipating a positive and favourable outcome to the deliberations on water charges. I compliment the members of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, who have struggled with this issue over a fairly long period of time. As a substitute member of the committee, I followed its proceedings carefully. I want to pay particular tribute to the Chairman of the committee, Senator Ó Céidigh, who has proved to be an astute and accommodating facilitator in the ongoing discussions.
I think we should respect him and acknowledge that his work has enhanced this House further.
Last year, this country rightly and properly celebrated the events of Easter 1916. We saw the celebrations that were shared by everybody all over the communities of this island. This year marks the centenary of 1917, which was another seminal year in the move towards Irish independence. I ask the Leader to update us from time to time on the progress being made by the committee that has been established to deal with the centenary commemorations. The sacrifice of 1916 would have come to naught without the continued work of patriotic men and women in 1917, many of whom were behind bars at the time. It was a tall order to continue a revolution after most of its leaders had been executed or were serving life terms in British jails, but they managed to carry it off with great discipline and unity. There were some outstanding stirring events in that year. A number of by-elections were contested successfully. The Kilkenny City by-election brought WT Cosgrave into prominence. Perhaps most famously, the East Clare by-election was won by Éamon de Valera on a clearly republican programme. This was followed by his election as president of Sinn Féin and of the Irish Volunteers. In the same year, the prisoners received a tumultuous welcome in Westland Row. Sadly, 1917 also marked the terrible death under awful circumstances of my fellow Kerry man, Thomas Ashe. I know the Government will want to honour these events in a fitting way. I ask the Leader to give us an update on the Government's plans. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will come to the House at some stage to talk about these matters.
I welcome yesterday's announcement that a new project is going ahead at a cost of €90 million to provide accommodation for over 3,000 office staff in Cork. It is the second development in a very small area. When this project has been completed, over 5,000 people will be working in the city. This shows the confidence the developers have in growth levels in Cork. It is possible that EU agencies currently based in the UK might come to Ireland. I suggest that the focus should not necessarily be on Dublin. Everything possible must be done to bring any EU agency that is currently located in England to Ireland. Locations outside Dublin must be considered in that context. Cork is getting ready to face up to and meet the challenge presented by any new agency. We need to focus on locations outside Dublin.
I spoke earlier this week about the availability of respite care in respect of people with disabilities over the age of 18. I recently met a parent who told me that the respite care which was available to them when their son was under the age of 18 is no longer available now that he has reached that age. Long-term planning is needed in the disability sector. A significant number of people with disabilities are being cared for by parents who are ageing. In many cases, other family members will not be available to provide care and assistance after the parents have passed away. Many parents are worried about the long-term care of their sons and daughters. We need to have a debate in here on this matter. I am calling for such a debate because we need to start planning for this whole area. We need to put a comprehensive plan in place. We need to assess what kinds of numbers we are talking about. At this stage, we do not seem to know where we will be going over the next ten years.
It would be proper to debate the matter with the Minister in attendance.
I formally second the proposal by Senator Warfield to take the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Yesterday, we discussed the Heritage Bill and it received detailed and comprehensive analysis. We spent nine hours debating it, which was a revelation. As I said yesterday, I could not get a single person to stand with me to object to certain clauses of the Bill in the last Parliament. Yesterday was a good day in this Parliament because a significant amendment was passed that restricts the cutting of hedges to the roadside. Even though this is a very important matter that affects a huge number of people in this country I could not find newspaper coverage whatsoever, nothing. The Seanad might well not have existed at all. We cannot compel the media to cover this House. We are entitled to ask why there is media coverage only when something trivial or entertaining happens in the Seanad. I am as guilty as anybody else in this aspect.
I am certain that it will be covered.
I beg the Senator's pardon. Will the matter feature in the Irish Farmers' Journal?
It will be, I am sure.
Senator Norris, please, without interruption.
It will be essential reading.
I thank the Senator for the information. I am very glad that the matter will feature in the Irish Farmers' Journal.
I am sure the Senator purchases it every week.
I read the newspaper occasionally in the Oireachtas Library. I am very glad to say that I have been mentioned in it more than once.
Protector of the countryside.
Somebody must have thought Senator Norris was a farmer.
Does the Senator read the lonely hearts section in the Irish Farmers' Journal?
I read them. They are hilarious.
Please allow Senator Norris to conclude.
I feel absolutely quenched by that shocking revelation by Senator Ó Ríordáin.
The advertisements mention road frontage.
The Senator writes to the agony column in the Irish Farmers' Journal. How appalling? The newspaper must be really badly stuck. I wonder if that comment will turn up in news rather than anything else we have said.
Senator Ó Ríordáin is in the Labour Party so he will know all about agony.
I hope my comment does not get coverage.
Please allow the Senator to conclude.
There is a moment for good humour, levity, etc., but it should not undermine the fact that this House does a lot of very hard and detailed work-----
-----that does impact on the Irish people. The least that we can expect is that this material is occasionally covered.
Like my colleagues, I welcome the fact that we will soon, hopefully, have clarity on water charges. I welcome the fact that Sinn Féin got clarity on water charges as a result of losing a by-election to Paul Murphy. I welcome its conversion as a result of that.
There are no votes on the road to Damascus.
I wish to point out the following to Senator Gavan and his colleagues. Sinn Féin quite rightly claims to be a 32 county party but it seems to have different proposals on various things, including water charges.
We do not, really.
The fibs are coming out again.
We tell the truth.
Sinn Féin has been in government in Northern Ireland.
Please speak through the Chair, Senator.
Sinn Féin has been in government in the North, most recently with the Democratic Unionist Party. There are regional and district rates in the North. The regional rate is set by the Assembly and the district rate is set by the councils. Sinn Féin, along with other parties, has presided over double taxation. It has set a district rate to cover items such as education and health, which are covered by general taxation in the South. Sinn Féin also continues to tax people so that means there is double taxation.
Cop on to yourselves. There are two sides. Fianna Fáil constantly goes on about this matter.
Let us get clarity on where exactly Sinn Féin stands on water charges.
Fianna Fáil has no clarity. It really does not. This is typical behaviour by that party. The Senator is a bit dumb and it shows on his face.
Fianna Fáil are slow learners.
Let us get clarity on where exactly Sinn Féin stands on general taxation.
The Senator is not very smart.
Clarity is all I have asked for. As one of the slow learners that Senator Gavan referred to, all I want is clarity on something that seems incoherent to me.
Does Senator Wilson live up North?
The information is known on the streets.
I live quite close to the North and visit it daily.
I am not sure that Senator Wilson will get clarity. I call Senator Feighan.
On a lighter note, my local soccer team, Boyle Celtic, has qualified to compete in the final four of the FAI Junior Cup and a song has been penned in its honour.
I do not know if the matter is relevant to the Order of Business but-----
The song has reached No. 1 on the iTunes download and left Ed Sheeran in a poor second place. The semi-final will be played on Sunday week. The club's success is great for the whole area and Boyle town.
Can the Senator give us a tune?
The Senator can download it for €1.29, if she does not mind.
I agree with my colleagues that Brexit will bring challenges. The European Medicines Agency will come to this country. I was the first Senator to highlight that it should come to the west of Ireland and to Carrick-on-Shannon. It will be great if it comes to the island of Ireland. Dublin is creaking at the seams and we must have balanced regional development.
We speak English in the west as well. We need these jobs in the west.
Not half as well as Dublin.
We speak English an awful lot better because we have our own distinguished accent in the west that is recognised internationally
People from abroad wishing to learn English can understand us because there are too many different accents in Dublin.
I call on the Taoiseach and many more, that if these jobs come to Ireland, they must do everything possible to get them past Mullingar because the west of Ireland needs high quality jobs.
Has the Senator included Mullingar in his request?
One can drive from Dublin Airport to Carrick-in-Shannon in an hour and a half but it can take the same amount of time to travel from Dublin Airport into the centre of Dublin. That is one I shall make today.
I call on the Leader to respond.
There must have been something in the water supplied in the Chamber this morning.
The water is still free.
I ask Members of the House to remember that Captain Mark Duffy's funeral is taking place today. I commend Senator Swanick on the volunteer role that he is playing in Mayo. I neglected to reply to him on this matter during yesterday's Order of Business. We all pray that the bodies of the two other crew members will be found and returned to their families. We should all remember, acknowledge and pay tribute to the men and women in the Irish Coast Guard who do tremendous work in very difficult situations and circumstances.
Senators Ardagh, Craughwell, Ó Ríordáin and Mulherin have raised the issue of Bus Éireann. I reiterate that everybody wants the dispute to end and it is of no benefit to the company, especially its staff, bus drivers, workers and their families. All of us, irrespective of our political viewpoint, want the dispute resolved. The only way to resolve the dispute is for all sides to sit around a table and engage in a meaningful conversation on an efficiency plan that will lead to buses going back on the streets, the workers back at work and a service provided to the travelling public. The points made by Senators Ó Ríordáin and Mulherin are worth noting. They offered suggestions rather than calling for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to intervene, which has been the only mantra for some Senators.
In terms of the PSO levy and free travel, the Minster for Social Protection is considering the funding and the free travel scheme. He has always acted and I am sure he will act again in this case. I remind Members that the PSO levy has been increased in the past two budgets.
Senator Mulherin made the pertinent point, and I make this appeal as Leader of the House, that management should manage and show leadership in terms of this issue. They should extend the hand of conversation and dialogue to the workers and unions. I appeal to the management team to initiate talks again and engage in a meaningful way with the workers. As Senator Gavan and others alluded to yesterday, management is attempting, which I hope is not true, to run this dispute into the ground. I plead with management not to engage in that practice. This dispute is a serious issue and requires the people in charge to take their role seriously. I urge them to engage now and extend an invitation to workers to re-engage in talks.
The management also needs to take the medicine that it has dished out to workers.
No interruptions, please.
I accept the points made by Senators Craughwell and Mulherin that cuts should be implemented in a uniform manner. In my opinion, the workers have disproportionately taken a hit. Senator Craughwell has made the fair comment that management should not be immune from cuts.
Senator Ardagh mentioned the Garda Síochána. The Garda Commissioner is attending an Oireachtas joint committee this morning.
Again everybody recognises that mistakes were made and wrongdoings have taken place. They are unacceptable. Nobody can condone that type of management performance and operation of our police force, An Garda Síochána.
I have made the point in this House and I repeat it this morning that there is a need for a cultural change in the management and the structure of management in An Garda Síochána. The previous Government and this Government have initiated reform of An Garda Síochána. When I hear people saying the Commissioner should go, do they realise that should the current Commissioner go, it does not lead to change in An Garda Síochána. An Garda Síochána needs root and branch change which the independent review that is being carried out will bring. We are focusing on having a head on a plate. I do not like that type of politics because it is populist and gets a headline in the newspaper. What we must see is a complete overhaul and a reworking of the way in which An Garda Síochána is managed and the management structure. I hope we will get that from the independent review, the work of GSOC and the Garda Síochána Inspectorate.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of education and training boards, ETBs, and microfinance. The Senator is correct about microfinance and the innovation hubs and centres in our universities and technical colleges. ETBs have a role to play and it is something that should be considered in the context of adult education and people returning to education. I know that Senator Craughwell's life experience is an example of what one can achieve from education later in life. We need to cultivate those opportunities at ETB level. It is a good idea and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to address it.
Senator Devine raised the issue of Project Eagle. It suits the narrative of some Members to engage in this manner. I found the Senator's remarks on the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, unparliamentary and unacceptable. The Minister refutes completely and absolutely that he acted in any way inappropriately. Due process was not given to the Minister. There is political posturing being done by the Committee of Public Accounts.
Is the Leader attacking the Committee of Public Accounts?
The Senator is correct, I did. There was an absolute need to do so because the Senator's contribution was very disappointing.
But Senator Buttimer is correct?
Let us make it quite clear. The details of the meeting were put in the public domain. May I ask the Senator whether she has read the minute of the meeting?
What did it say? I would say the Senator did not read it.
That is harassment.
The rules also apply to the Leader. Leader, please do not engage in cross-party banter. Please address the Chair.
There was also a minority report. To be fair to the Minister, due process was not given to him. At all times-----
So he threatened them.
He hid the information.
He did not.
Allow the Leader to continue.
At all times he co-operated with the Committee of Public Accounts, providing all documentation-----
No, he did not.
I will injunct Senator Buttimer for what he has said.
-----providing all information.
He knew about it.
Senators, please allow the Leader to respond.
He refutes all suggestions of inappropriate meetings with Cerberus. He was not invited by the Committee of Public Accounts to discuss this and the Minister has no role-----
I know about it.
The Minister has no role. The Senator might understand this if she goes back and reads-----
Please allow the Leader to respond.
Nobody knew about it.
Senator Devine is not achieving anything by these interruptions. Please allow the Leader to respond. If Senator Devine does not agree, she can challenge him the next morning.
Let me quote from the Minister's speech in the Dáil last night. He stated: "The Committee of Public Accounts has accepted my long-standing position derived from law that in these circumstances, it was not within the powers of the Minister for Finance to direct NAMA to halt the sale process." Let us make that quite clear. Let me repeat, the minute of the meeting with Cerberus is available on the Department of Finance's website for everybody to read. It does show that the Minister has not acted inappropriately at all. Let us make that quite clear.
I will be happy to accept Senator Kelleher's motion and I was hoping to second it but I understand that Senator Ó Ríordáin has done so. I commend her for raising this issue.
Senators Richmond and Reilly raised the issue of JP Morgan, which we hope will come to Dublin. I think Senator Richmond's comment in regard to the capital plan post-Brexit is something that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy O'Donohoe, will be happy to come to the House to discuss. It is an important discussion to have.
Senator Gallagher again raised the issue of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust. I think the requests are reasonable in terms of expediting the charitable application. I am sure we can sit down as a cross-party grouping and work out a mechanism whereby we can go to the Department to see if we can get some financial assistance for that case.
Senators Gavan, Davitt, Ned O'Sullivan and Wilson raised the issue of Irish Water. I commend Senator Wilson for stating the facts. In the North, where Sinn Féin is in government, there are two regimes, regional and district, and Sinn Féin is party to the imposition of double taxation on Irish people in the North.
Sinn Féin in the North had its say at the recent election.
I welcome the new-found Sinn Féin probity about how our country is managed and governed. I keep smiling. Sinn Féin is a high tax and high spend party - a tax and spend party. It does not believe in responsibility in government-----
The universal social charge.
Tax cuts and trolleys from the boys in government.
The reality is that it heard the hooves in Tallaght of Deputy Paul Murphy and it needs its P60. Ever since then it has been running for cover.
I think that sometimes the Leader is a sucker for punishment.
Him or us?
The Leader seems to be attracting fire.
The Fine Gael Party has always been a party of probity, responsibility and fiscal management in government. We have always wanted to ensure that we would have a fair, robust and multilateral approach to the future funding of domestic water. I want to join with all the Senators who commended Senator Ó Céidigh for his chairmanship and stewardship of the committee and to commend the Fine Gael members for their role in the committee. Everybody recognises that the provision of clean drinking water does not come free of charge. It needs to be paid for. I do not want to pre-empt the report because, as the Cathaoirleach rightly said, we will have a debate on it in this House. What we are going to see is the retention of Irish Water and metering, and a charge for those who use excessive quantities of water and do not conserve water and treat it properly. We will see compliance with the EU obligation. We will see equality and fairness, that those who have paid their water bills will not be treated as second class citizens. I very much welcome that.
I do not like leaks from the water report.
I am not quoting from the water report, but the Cathaoirleach is correct.
Senators Dolan, Ardagh and Colm Burke also raised the issue of disability. As Senator Dolan knows quite well, Ireland is committed to ratifying the UN convention. There is a number of pieces of legislation that must be dealt with first. What we must do, and we should find a common approach, is in the context of improving the life of those with disabilities so that we can see as Senator Dolan has said in the past, a disability-proofed budget. As Senator Colm Burke mentioned, we need to plan for the future. There are issues around respite care in particular for adults over the age of 18 who are severely or profoundly disabled. There is a need to give their parents, who in some cases are very old and are very worried about their disabled offspring, that sense that there is a plan for their loved one after they pass.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of St. Mary's school in Delvin. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House to address it.
Senators Reilly and Feighan referred to the European Medicines Agency. It is important that we also recognise that a high number of the jobs that have been created in the past 12 months are in areas outside Dublin. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, is to be commended for that. It is important that we secure the location of the European Medicines Agency Board headquarters in Ireland. Whether it is located in Dublin, Cork or Carrick-on-Shannon is a different issue but it is important that we secure it for Ireland first. I will be happy to accept Senator Warfield's amendment to the Order of Business on the Gender Recognition (Amendment) Bill 2017. It is an important Bill and I commend him for it.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of 1917, a seminal year in the history of our country.
I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, update the House on the commemorative events for many of the coming years as well.
I join Senator Colm Burke in welcoming the €90 million development for Cork, which will transform the city in the Docklands area. It will be a huge advantage and asset to the city. I welcome the initiative.
Senator Norris has again raised the chestnut of media coverage of the House. It is one that he is right to highlight. We have no role in what the press covers or how it covers us, but it is an issue that the Houses of the Oireachtas Service communications unit might take up on our behalf.
Senator Feighan made reference to Boyle Celtic in the FAI Junior Cup. It is good to see that Ed Sheeran can be beaten. He also made reference to the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit.
I would be happy to take Senator Kelleher and Senator Warfield's two-piece legislation as an amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Colette Kelleher has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1". Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Fintan Warfield has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 16 be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.