I call the House to order. I call the Leader to outline the business of the day.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m; No. 2, Companies (Accounting) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to be adjourned not later than 3 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages to be taken at 3 p.m; No. 4, Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Bill 2016 - Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, with time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
I will start with a bit of good news. I welcome the long-awaited deal struck between the Department of Health and Vertex to provide the life-saving drug, Orkambi, to cystic fibrosis patients. Campaigners have been appealing to the Minister for Health for well over 18 months for this drug, which will radically change the lives of more than 1,000 people who suffer from cystic fibrosis. There has been a lot of campaigning for this and Deputies and Senators in my own party have been dealing with cystic fibrosis patients and their supporters.
I also wish to raise the controversy surrounding the post office network. It has been indicated that 265 post offices around the country are unviable and many face closure. I am sure this will affect post offices in urban areas but it would decimate rural Ireland as post offices are a lifeline to many areas. On last night's "Prime Time", the chief executive of An Post, David McRedmond, said there would be a significant number of closures and that if the company does not make changes needed for the future the whole system will collapse. We need urgent clarity from the Government on what it intends to do to prevent such closures. Government responsibility for post offices and the future network seems to be shared by a number of Departments and Ministers. The Government received the Bobby Kerr report almost a year ago, which outlined a number of practical solutions, but it has not yet addressed it. It is unacceptable. It is important that we tackle this issue. We must put a new emphasis on defending services, particularly in rural Ireland, and stop neglecting positive ideas that could help. I see there has been a row between the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, which the Minister, Deputy Naughten, seems to have won for the moment. We should bring the Minister to the House to talk about it.
I call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to come to the Seanad to discuss the delay in publishing the interim report on mother and baby homes. The Minister has had the document since last September and I have grave concerns about the length of time it has taken to publish it. I welcome its publication but there are still large gaps in the report and it is inexcusable that it has taken six months to get to this point.
I dealt with Bus Éireann yesterday and I hope the issue will conclude satisfactorily at some point today.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business proposed by the Leader. I propose that all Stages of No. 5, the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, be taken today. I would be disposed to withdrawing my amendment if the Leader is in a position gives the House an assurance that the remaining Stages will be taken as a matter of priority in the weeks after the Easter recess.
It is time that this House had a proper debate on where the funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland is going. It is all very well for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to say he has asked the joint committee, of which I am a member, to look at alternative funding models but many people have taken exception to the suggestion that every large tablet other than a mobile phone should attract a television licence fee or something like that. This House should debate the issue thoroughly. There are many other models, such as earmarking a portion of the local property tax for the fee and imposing it on every house, or giving responsibility for collecting the fee to an agency such as the Electricity Supply Board, which supplies to every single dwelling and commercial premises in the country. It would be a retrograde step to ask people for over €150 per year for the capacity to receive television programmes, however indirectly, on their tablets and portable computers and it would be deeply unpopular with the people. It is about time that the management in RTE realised that there cannot be an increase in the licence fee as it is currently constituted. If somebody had a house in Dublin and a holiday caravan in Skerries, they would have to come up with over €300 per annum for their licence fees.
If they want to earn that kind of money to pay it over to the State, at current marginal rates of tax and USC, they will have to earn over €600 for the privilege. I am fully in favour of public service broadcasting and its proper funding, but we cannot have a situation where RTE is encouraged to think it will get more money on this front and that it will be imposed on people across the board just because they have a laptop at their disposal. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Cllimate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to come to the House to debate this issue with us.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I would like an invitation to be extended as a matter of urgency to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to come to the Chamber to respond to questions on the second interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes which was published yesterday and her response to it. The survivor groups waited anxiously for eight months for the report to be published and their experiences to be validated by the State. Yesterday, amid the noise from the water committee and on other issues, they received validation that the lies and their experiences did not matter. They are reeling from the shock and speechless for now at their dismissal in the report. This compounds the pain and emotional distress for those blighted by the cruelty wrought upon them. It is laughable that Judge Murphy found no evidence of abuse because 600 people gave harrowing evidence to the commission, in many instances backed up by medical documents, of the physical, emotional and sexual violence that made up their daily lives. The Minister also talked to survivors, yet she agrees with the commission's statement. The dogs in the street know that abuse of an horrific nature occurred. I have counselled many survivors and I am privy to the extremities of the twisted abuse they suffered. It was a sadistic environment and a reign of terror by religious orders with State support and involvement. The report is an attempt at washing Ireland's dirtiest open secret - our concentration camps, our babies for adoption factories and our slave trade. Look at the length of time it took for the Magdalen women to be given an apology. They were made to beg for years. Even now, what was promised remains to be fulfilled. As the final report is not due to be published until next year, there is still time to extend the terms of reference. Survivors have the right to know who they are, where they came from and who their people are. They have the right to know why the adoptees are treated differently in the report. Is there a hierarchy in Ireland's concentration camps? There was a recommendation that there be an amnesty from prosecution in order that those who were involved would give evidence. They should be subpoenaed and not treated with kid gloves. Survivors have asked me to ask the Houses and the Minister responsible where is the decency and empathy and where the moral compass lies in determining whether heinous wrongs will be investigated and addressed. Who in this Chamber believes the State has not been implicated in the savage cruelty inflicted, the slavery and torture of very vulnerable women, girls and infants? The survivors I have mentioned all seek truth, justice and accountability. They want more than tea and sympathy. The terms of reference of the commission must be extended. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to address these issues?
Is the Senator formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
I thank everyone for the cross-party support I received for the Adult Safeguarding Bill which I brought forward last Wednesday in Private Members' time. I am looking at the next steps to be taken to progress this urgent legislation. I would be delighted to have the continued input and support of the House. Yesterday the national safeguarding committee chaired by Patricia Rickard-Clarke launched the findings of its RedC poll on vulnerable adults in Irish society. I recommended that people look at the report. Some of the findings are stark and timely, given our recent debate. It is clear from the findings that adult abuse is widespread. Two in five people think vulnerable adults are treated badly, while 48% claim they have experienced abuse of a vulnerable adult. Half of the people under the age of 34 years do not know what to do if they encounter a situation where a vulnerable adult is being abused. It is clear that we need to move the Adult Safeguarding Bill forward as quickly as possible.
I ask the Leader if the invitation to the Minister of State with responsibility for equality, immigration and integration to discuss the migrant integration strategy can be reissued. The issue is really important and it would be great to see time being allocated to discuss it again.
I will raise two issues, the first of which is child poverty. There have been a number of requests made this morning and I agree that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should be invited to come to the House to discuss the issue of mother and baby homes. In the past few weeks I have found the noise in the Houses on the issue of water charges distressing. One sees images of Deputies and Senators with scraps of paper surrounded by other parliamentary colleagues and there have been discussions of the threat of an election and the possibility that the issue will cause the collapse of the Government. An incredible amount of energy has gone into discussing the issue. It would be refreshing if the issue of child poverty created the same amount of heat, excitement and enthusiasm in all political parties represented in the House. It would be refreshing to witness a politician in the Houses with a scrap of paper discussing how the issue of child poverty could be adequately addressed and tackled and to have those surrounding that individual saying it is something on which we could go to the country. It is of fundamental importance to the survival of the Republic. Anybody who believes in the real meaning of the word "republic" would take the issue of child poverty that seriously. However, the issue which generates that effect is water charges. It is the issue that has got people excited. On the issue of child poverty, I want to make a practical suggestion that the Minister be invited to come to the House to discuss her vision for the ongoing area-based childhood, ABC, programme which encompasses a number of initiatives, including in my constituency the preparing for life scheme in Darndale. There are 15 such schemes across the country. I would like to have the Minister's input on how she believes the schemes that tackle child poverty and empower parents can be enhanced in the coming years.
Like other Senators, I raise the issue of Chechnya and LGBT rights. This was the first country in the world to openly vote in favour of marriage equality. We have a number of things of which we can be proud in this country in promoting LGBT rights across the political spectrum. Most recently, my colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, has been attempting to push that agenda further in this Chamber. We are a beacon of light for the world when it comes to LGBT rights. It is important when the Vice President of America wants to roll back on LGBT rights that we stand firmly in opposition. In Chechnya there are reports that camps and detention centres are being established and that young LGBT males, in particular, are being rounded up and sent to them. It is important we take a stand against this. I respectfully ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade be asked to come to the Chamber to discuss the issue in order that we can have a proper conversation with him about how he can discuss the issue with the Russian ambassador to this country because we are a beacon of light when it comes to dealing with certain issues. This is a country which has a proud recent record of promoting LGBT rights. It is something on which we should not be behind the door when speaking about how we can play our role in the international fight for LGBT equality.
As my party's spokesperson on foreign affairs, I support the views of Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin on what is happening in Chechnya and LGBT rights.
I will raise a different issue. There is a long-standing tradition in this House which has been honoured to this day of encouraging independent thought, independent speech and the making of distinctive and personal statements. It is a very important input to political debate in this country. For that reason, I respectfully depart from the developing and growing consensus on the opening of licensed premises on Good Friday which I am against for a number of succinct reasons.
I am against it on the grounds that, de facto, pubs closing on Good Friday is part of our national identity. It is distinctly Irish and has been for a long time.
I shall not accept interruptions because my comments are important.
The matter will be debated later today.
The closure of pubs on Good Friday is part of our religious tradition. It is non-sectarian in that there has been a buy-in by all of the religious traditions. It also sends a subliminal message on our attitude to alcohol that we favour temperance and have space for a non-alcohol day or two during the year. We should not give in to every fad and whim of commercialism. If there is money to be lost, so be it if there is a valuable national priority to be maintained. Keeping pubs closed on Good Friday is distinctly Irish and part of our religious cultural heritage.
We should open the debate and reflect more before getting rid of everything and giving in to every commercial whim. We should not "fumble in a greasy till and add the halfpence to the pence" on every issue.
I wish to inform the House that the other day I wrote to the management, shareholders and directors of MidLink M7/M8 Limited to complain in the strongest terms about the treatment of the Carrick-on-Suir water rescue service. As we all know, a Herculean effort is being made in Erris to bring home the bodies of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith. Last weekend almost 1,000 people were involved in the search on land and sea. Let us be clear that there is no second-class emergency service in this country. However, the treatment of the volunteer emergency workers involved was appalling. It was an insult to their dedication, bravery and selfless work that they were charged tolls for emergency vehicles while on their way home from the search. In my letter I called on the company to without delay publicly express an apology to the Carrick-on-Suir water rescue service and arrange for a full refund. This is not about the money but the principle. I want the company to immediately initiate a revision of its policy. I hope the Leader and my fellow Senators agree with my sentiments.
I second my colleague Senator Michael McDowell's proposal that we take all Stages of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill. Like him, I am prepared to work with the Leader and will listen to what he has to say in replying to the Order of Business.
Last week I spoke about the functions and role of the education and training boards. Through Senator Billy Lawless, I was introduced to some people in the United States, including venture capitalists who had a lot of money. Having an opportunity to meet people in the United States is just one of the benefits in having somebody like the Senator there. I draw attention to a marvellous project called the 1871 Entrepreneurial Technology Centre that is mirrored on a micro level by the PorterShed in Galway. The role of education and training boards was to include seed capital, funding and resources for small stand-alone start-up companies. Through the contacts I made through Senator Billy Lawless I have been emailed by a number of people from Chicago who are interested in coming here to look at small start-ups to see whether they can fund them.
Why not go over to them?
Naturally, start-ups seek equity. We would like to see the education and training boards being given back the responsibility to assisting small start-ups. In order to do so, we need the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the issue. In the revised Bill responsibility was removed from the education and training boards. I invite everyone to visit the PorterShed in Galway and a similar place in County Kerry or west Cork. I can see Senator Paul Coghlan looking at me.
Why not go and meet investors?
Creating five jobs in a small town would make a huge difference. If we could get ten small towns involved, 50 jobs could be created. I ask the Leader, at his leisure, to invite the Minister responsible to come to the House to debate this issue after the Easter break.
I again refer to the need to prioritise the N4 and N5 road projects in the mid-term capital review. Submissions by the public will be accepted up to 30 April. The economic crash of 2008 stopped many projects in their tracks, including the N4 and N5 road projects. They would have assisted in balancing regional development. A number of weeks ago the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government launched the plan Ireland 2040. It outlines the need to spread jobs and development across the regions. Will the Leader facilitate a debate after the Easter break with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform? Will he ask the Minister to come to the House to outline the timelines once the public consultation process has been completed? It would be an opportunity for everyone to express his or her priorities. We need good forward planning, but it can be difficult to achieve when Governments operate in five-year cycles. If we do not get things right this time, one side of the country will be choked, while the other will be left totally devoid. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to the House after the Easter break to discuss the issue.
I unequivocally support Senator Keith Swanick's proposal in response to what happened to the Carrick-on-Suir water rescue service when its volunteers had to pay tolls. It was an appalling way to treat them. Their work must be recognised as a matter of principle.
I extend the solidarity of the House and our thoughts and prayers to the families of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith who remain missing. I wish all of the rescue services involved in the search the best of luck in the coming days in seeking to reunite Paul and Ciarán with their families.
I convey my sympathy to the family of Evan Morrissey who was aged 28 years and a father of five when he died on 22 March 2014 from a bleed on the brain having been sent home three times after being diagnosed with a migraine. He had had a history of migraines, but on this occasion he was suffering from neck and back pain and vomiting. The admitting doctor in the emergency department in South Tipperary General Hospital conceded that he had not read the notes supplied by the paramedics. I raise the matter because there continues to be-----
I hope the Senator will not name the doctor as the case may be sub judice.
There continues to be misdiagnosis of patients in emergency departments throughout the country. Let me give a couple of examples. I know a woman who was discharged from hospital, even though she had a fractured back. She had no one to look after her at 11 p.m. and had no money. She had been brought to the hospital by ambulance and was dismissed at 11 p.m., even though her back was fractured. I know of another woman who was sent away, although she had a broken ankle, on which she hobbled around on for three days. Another woman who presented with a life threatening illness was told by a receptionist that her next appointment would be a month later. She told the receptionist that she knew there was something seriously wrong with her and that it would be her month's mind instead of a hospital appointment. I have outlined just a few examples of what has happened in some hospitals, but there are many more. Will the Leader request the Minister for Health to come to the House to give us the aggregate numbers of cases involving a misdiagnosis that have happened in hospitals in recent years? I want the Minister to outline the safety measures he has put in place to ensure misdiagnoses will be stopped and ensure the safety of patients in hospitals.
I urge Senators to be careful in referring to cases not to identify anyone, particularly when there may be a medical negligence case pending.
The case has been concluded and the details are available to the public. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his advice.
The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Finian McGrath, has a longstanding passion, commitment and interest in cystic fibrosis and those who have the condition. I commend him and the Minister for Health on developments in respect of the Orkambi drug. Many people will be very relieved today and others who will be diagnosed with the condition will take comfort as a result of what has been done.
The water issue has been raised. In December 2014, I spoke on "Morning Ireland" on the day after the "Prime Time" investigation featuring bungalow 3 in Áras Attracta in Swinford. A major water protest was held the following morning. The question that struck me that day was when we, as a country, would deal with the major issues we face, given that people in a nursing home were being rounded on by others whose role was to care for, protect and support them. I do not wish to detract from the concern and passion people have about water or their ability to pay water charges or otherwise. I plead with all Members in both Houses to get back to the work of ensuring we have proper public and social services, especially in the area of disabilities. Senator Ó Ríordáin made this point in respect of children.
I was honoured and surprised to be elected to the Seanad at this time last year. Since then, many individuals with disabilities, their families and supporters and members of disability groups have visited the House. Those with whom I have spoken have said they found all of the staff of the Oireachtas, including ushers, porters and catering staff, to be highly thoughtful and accommodating. It is important to mention this because this campus is old and not especially accessible with modern and old elements. The people who work and serve here go a long way to make it more welcoming and comfortable, for which I thank them.
I also welcome the deal that has been struck on cystic fibrosis drugs, particularly Orkambi. It will provide welcome relief to a particular cohort of cystic fibrosis sufferers who will benefit from the drug. It also shows that we must stand up to drugs companies. In that regard, I compliment those who negotiated with the companies in question to achieve an acceptable deal in terms of cost.
I raise the issue of post offices. The suggestion that half of all post offices could face closure creates fear throughout rural Ireland and among those who are aware of the value of the post office network. Post offices are crying out for investment and diversification of services. I am heartened to note the interest the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, has shown in this issue, in particular, the hope he expressed that further services will be rolled out shortly once broadband becomes available throughout the network.
We must consider practical business. We have heard a great deal over the years about post offices providing banking and other services. Reports have been produced and action has been promised for years. We have reached a crunch point and we must stop talking about how great the post office network is because every change to date has involved diminishing post office services or shutting down branches on an ad hoc basis. We must be honest and put everything on the table. Post offices should examine the possibility of assuming responsibility for compiling the register of electors. In many cases, local authorities have been unable to do this job, creating a gap in the register. Postmasters and postmistresses have a great deal of local information which could be valuable in this regard.
As I have stated before, post offices should be allowed to provide driver licence services similar to the passport express service they currently provide. This is not rocket science and I hope there will be an impetus to take many of the steps required for post offices now that the writing seems to be on the wall and An Post's plans have become known. Notwithstanding its commercial mandate, An Post, as a State company, must play its part.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Máire Devine.
Yesterday, Ms Patricia King of ICTU provided some startling information to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which I propose to share with Senators. The most recent statistics from the Central Statistics Office show that 35.2% of the workforce earn less than €400 per week. Senators should think about that statistic because it means one in three workers employed in the State earns less than €400 per week gross. Incidentally, this is less than one third of what Senators are paid weekly before expenses. Another 32% of employees earn between €400 and €800 per week. As such, the Government's own statistics demonstrate that this is a low-wage economy. Ireland is second from the bottom in terms of low wages in the OECD.
I ask that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, come to the House to debate this issue. The problem with the so-called recovery is simple. There is no recovery for people who earn €400 per week or less and when we have one in three workers employed on poverty wages. We must implement constructive policies that will help to address this issue. One simple way of doing so would be to address how the State can support a living wage, perhaps in its procurement policies, as occurs in Scotland. I am trying to be constructive and I would like a constructive response from the Government side, rather than have Senators throw the usual brickbats. There is a problem with poverty pay and the onus is on us to address it. I ask the Leader to ensure the Minister comes to the House and that all sides contribute to tackling this issue.
I congratulate UISCE, the Union for Improved Services Communication and Education, on the launch of its strategic plan. UISCE works with drug users and drug service users to keep drug use advice at the centre of drug policy, which is extremely important.
Senator Joe O'Reilly described Good Friday as part of our identity. Most things about Good Friday are definitely not part of my identity and many Irish people feel the same as I do. He also used the term "bowing to commercial whims". We should remind him of those words when we debate the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill again.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House for a debate on inequality. It was pointed out to me at an event last night that we have conferences, events and community initiatives on how people living in poverty can tackle their disadvantage, yet no one sits in rooms talking about how we can tackle privilege. We need to have a real conversation on inequality rather than considering the issue in a vacuum. We must address the broader issue of inequality and how best to tackle it, rather than assuming that people choose to live in poverty. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate.
I remind Senators that the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill will be debated this evening. It is nonsensical to debate issues related to it at this stage.
I welcome the sentiments expressed by Senator Dolan on Áras Attracta and the work that needs to be done in the area of disability. I hope we can move on and address important issues, including disability.
I raise again the unfilled posts in the child and adolescent mental health services, or CAMHS. I will continue to raise this issue until I am given answers. It is unbelievable that more than 80 posts in community mental health services remain unfilled.
CAMHS caters for children and adolescents with severe mental health issues, including suicidal ideation and is an essential community support for families. As such, I cannot understand why the HSE is having difficulties filling posts and maintaining staff. It says it is making every effort it can to fill posts. Can the Leader request the Minister to attend the House to give us an idea as to why there is difficulty and what is being done by the HSE to fill the posts?
I welcome the alleged compromise arrived at on the water issue. As a House and at Oireachtas level, we must reflect on what this whole affair has to say about the way we do politics here and in the country. We have had a massive national distraction and a tremendous amount of posturing on all sides on an issue which is really rather simple, namely, the idea of promoting public, individual and collective responsibility for a precious resource. What has gone on at political level over the last weeks and months has not been edifying and has not inspired confidence in the political process. We must consider our political priorities here. We have had all this distraction about whether people should pay and how much for their water usage while the entire political establishment on practically all sides of the House has ignored completely the fact that we face hundreds of millions of euro worth of overspend in relation to the proposed children's hospital, far beyond what was originally projected. There is a high likelihood that the hospital is being built in the wrong place and that it will endanger the children who need its services. Very eminent people have given dire warnings about the massive expense and lack of accountability around the constant increases in projected expenditure and questions about placement. There has been no serious political discussion of this while we rant on about a relatively minor issue, namely, water charges.
We have massive inconsistency here. While I hate to point fingers, the Fianna Fáil leader was speaking a few short weeks ago about the need for religious orders to hand over any health or education facilities they owned. Meanwhile, he asks today about the proposed exclusion of certain categories of former residents of mother and baby homes, saying the matter is complex and that it is too early to say. What really matters to our politicians? Is it the welfare of individuals, including former residents of these homes who have a very good claim to be included at the same level as others with a disadvantaged past or is this all about political posturing and going by what the media appears to want politicians to say? Is that what it is really all about at the end of the day?
I join Members in supporting the suggestion that we have a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the statement that came out yesterday. It is shocking and appalling. I add a request to the Leader that the Minister for Justice and Equality attend to speak to us on the issue. It has been pigeonholed as something for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs when, in fact, it is a deep and wide issue of justice and equality in the State. It is and should be a matter of extreme concern to us if our Government says it is not possible to implement recommendations to deliver justice, equality and redress.
It is shameful that we have had statements saying there have been no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect. Indeed, the Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, stated to the UN that there had been no findings in respect of the Magdalen laundries when we are finding the bodies of children in the ground and we see the evidence, stories and testimony of people who endlessly and bravely come forward to talk about the experiences they have had. Despite obstruction and the obfuscation and removal of records, every examination finds consistent clear arrows towards abuse and neglect. Let us move past the point where we say there are no findings and say that there was abuse and neglect albeit the depth and extent of that abuse and neglect will take work to dig through.
In respect of Senator Mullen's contribution, the Comptroller and Auditor General spoke about the failure of religious institutions to contribute. That is a huge issue. There is a concern that if the State signals that it will not open these redress schemes and reopens negotiations on the contribution religious institutions need to make, including in relation to properties if necessary, they will understand that they do not need to worry either. Let us have no more complicity. Let us have a debate not on whether but on how we address these issues and deliver redress and justice to women and not only the children who have been affected by this.
I thank the Senator.
A last point-----
I ask the Senator to hold on.
This is related. It will take one second.
The Senator will accede to the Chair. Members come in here thinking they are all leaders and can have three minutes. I allowed whichever leader was chosen three minutes and the Senator has already had three minutes and wants to bring up another point.
It is the same point. I will conclude.
I also point out that every other person bar a leader can raise only one issue on the Order of Business.
This is the same issue and I will finish.
The Senator is over her time. I give her two seconds to finish up.
Ireland hopes to chair the UN Commission on the Status of Women and to stand before the world as a leader on the rights of women. How can we do that credibly next March if we have this failure to redress the abuse of older women hanging over us? I ask the Leader how we can credibly take that role on.
Many other Members want to speak and it is unfair to them. Many Members abide by the limits day in, day out while there are five or six others who, day in, day out, test my patience and indulgence. Some day, I will prevent them from speaking. I am usually fairly patient.
I welcome the decision on the benefits that cystic fibrosis patients will enjoy as a result of the decision to make two drugs available. I thank the Minister for Health and the Department for coming to an agreement on that issue. We also need to look at the agreement between pharmaceutical companies and the Government over 12 months ago on a saving of over €600 million in the cost of drugs. We are paying approximately €2.6 billion in real terms for drugs and pharmaceuticals every year. My understanding is that there are a number of other drugs which have been presented to the body which decides on drug availability and in respect of which negotiations are ongoing. These drugs would benefit a large number of patients. I understand there has been quite a delay in making a decision on those drugs being brought into the system. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister so that these drugs might also be made available at an early date. While I welcome the decision on Orkambi and the other drug which is now available to cystic fibrosis patients, we have a great deal more work to do. However, this is also about trying to keep the cost of drugs down because a huge number of people can benefit if drugs are cheaper. That is an extremely important issue as well.
The Leader will recall that in the run-up to the St. Patrick's Day festivities at the Famine memorial in Philadelphia in March, the Taoiseach announced the very positive news that the Government will seek to hold a referendum to extend the franchise in presidential elections to our global diaspora and citizens in the North. The Government's option papers are being considered and it is intended to discuss the issue at the Global Irish Civic Forum in May. Will the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, attend the House after the Easter break to update Members on where those options are and to set out the moves which have been made in terms of the practicalities of moving the issue forward?
We are moving towards the weekend, and with the weekend that it is all across the country, in towns and villages and laneways and gravesides, we will remember the sacrifice of 1916. The Proclamation throws down a challenge to all of us, making special reference to the exiled children but also reflective of the country and the nation in its entirety. It is a very apt time for us to reflect on this issue and how we utilise this in a positive way to include citizens across the entirety of the country and across our global diaspora. I welcome the announcement by the Taoiseach. I welcome the moves that the Minister and his officials are currently undertaking. I wonder if the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, would consider coming in to the House to update Members in advance of the global civic forum as it has been a while since he has addressed us on this issue.
We have been talking about water and many other issues, but something that seems to have passed us by is that almost six weeks ago there was a very important election in Northern Ireland. Six weeks later we still have live issues such as the Irish language and dealing with the past. The parties still have not come to an arrangement. I have been told that the respect, goodwill and eagerness for a solution is not there among the parties involved. I have noticed over the years that when things got difficult Dublin and London were always called to intervene and step up to the plate. I feel that unless something happens before the weekend direct rule will be coming to Northern Ireland from London, which will not be helpful. London will do as little as possible for Northern Ireland. This will impact on the island of Ireland. I am hopeful that the parties can step up to the plate and show the same eagerness, respect and goodwill that was shown in 1998 in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. It is difficult and there are many issues, but if the Irish Government can be helpful it should be. This is very important, and it is very timely with Easter coming.
I would like to support the comments of my colleague, Senator Swanick, regarding the emergency services, and to reiterate that there is no such thing as a second-rate emergency service in this country. Perhaps by way of a gesture the toll companies could offer free tags to the emergency services that do not have them at present.
I also acknowledge the comments of my colleague, Senator Gerard Craughwell, on the education and training boards, and the reference he made to 1871 in Chicago. I too had the opportunity, thanks to our colleague, Senator Billy Lawless, to visit that area. It is an incubator for start-up technology companies that offers entrepreneurs and start-ups space to work, meet and share their knowledge and experiences. It is something that we should look at providing here. I have spoken to our spokesperson on education and skills, Senator Robbie Gallagher, and he has written to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills requesting that representatives from 1871 to make a presentation to the committee. That would be very helpful.
I rise today to raise the issue of the alarming figures from Retail Excellence Ireland that show that more people are shopping online now than are shopping locally. I would like to encourage people to go out and support their local retailers. The fact that the value of sterling has gone down is helping people in terms of shopping online. Retail Excellence Ireland has started a campaign and is working with small retailers to help promote them online and showing that they have goods and offer value for money. It is incumbent on us to get the message out that people should support local retailers and keep their money local, because that creates local jobs. It is very important that we support this campaign.
I know the Cathaoirleach said that we should not raise two issues, but I welcome the fact that an agreement was reached on the issue of the cystic fibrosis drugs.
It might be timely to have a debate on the Irish horseracing industry as we face into the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, which is the jewel in the crown of national hunt racing, with a prize pot of over €500,000. It is probably one of the biggest races in the history of national hunt racing. I am not sure what jurisdiction these Houses have over the Turf Club. It is a fairly arcane body and its members are touchy about their rights and procedures. I hesitate to mention them here. Members of this House might be aware of the recent controversy arising from the non-triers ruling which was brought in recently. Nobody likes to see a horse on a racetrack who is not running to his best ability, especially the punter who has backed the horse. There is very little of that in Irish racing today, but it used to be widespread when I was a youngster. It is no longer prevalent as racing has become far too professional a business for that. The new ruling has been brought in by the Turf Club which states that if a horse is not seen to be trying then its trainer or jockey can be fined. The infamous case recently was the Music Box case, which resulted in trainer Aidan O'Brien, one of our best and most professional trainers, being fined €10,000 and his jockey being put off the tracks for five weeks. That is that man's livelihood.
Not too long ago the Turf Club was warning jockeys about the excessive use of the whip. Where does one draw the line? How one times a horse and decides what chance it has or how to produce it in a race is something beyond all our imaginations here. It is not an easy thing to call, and horses have to be ridden sympathetically as well.
I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to this House when we can have a good discussion on this issue. It is mostly positive, but perhaps the gentlemen with the hard hats might answer a few questions.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for letting me speak as I was late to the Order of Business. I previously called for the rolling out of hospital car parking guidelines for seriously ill patients and for a consistent service to be provided across the country for families when a member of their family is very seriously ill and they accrue major costs for car parking. There have been several studies discussed in the media and reports of hospitals making high incomes from car parking, which I am sure they rely on.
I would like to make proposals to the Minister and hope that I will have the opportunity to make them in this House in the near future. I propose that a designated member of staff be appointed in all hospitals to deal with cases where car parking concessions are required for patients with long-term illness. At the moment in many hospitals it is the nurse manager who takes care of this. No more than any other nurse, even if they are a manager, they have little time to deal with this as a priority. That person would then grant the concession of free parking to certain patients and their families. It would be very beneficial to people in those circumstances. I also propose that such concessions be advertised and displayed. In certain hospitals where these concessions exist people have so much on their minds with the illness of a family member that they do not realise it exists. I renew my call to the Minister to roll out guidelines for hospitals in this area, and in particular to take these suggestions on board.
I rise today to talk about rates and the revaluation of rates, which has been going on throughout the country at present. Recently we had the revaluation in Westmeath which brought in two reasonably sized provincial towns, Mullingar and Athlone, both with populations of approximately 30,000. It has been an eye-opening experience for small retailers. As we know already, in rural Ireland small retail businesses have gone to the wall and are non-existent. I feel that the next rung on the ladder is going to be provincial towns. This is coming down the track at speed. I have seen five different businesses over the last month that are seriously considering closing due to the revaluation of rates.
One of the businesses in question has been in existence for over 100 years. Senator Byrne hit on it earlier when she said there is a change in shopping patterns. Up to 85% of clothing in the UK is now bought online, while in Ireland it is 60% and heading in that direction. We really have to look at a system where net profit is compared to rates. There will have to be changes or we will have no more shops and town centres will be decimated.
I thank the 25 Senators who made contributions to the Order of Business. I welcome Mr. Tiernan Brady of Australians for Equality to the Public Gallery who is here for the Easter holidays. He is a former member of the Yes Equality campaign and I pay tribute to his work here. I wish him well in his work in Australia and hope to see it pass marriage equality.
I join with Senators Horkan, Dolan, Mulherin, Colm Burke and Byrne in congratulating all concerned in the protracted, although unnecessarily so, negotiations on the provision of Orkambi. I congratulate Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, its chief executive, Philip Watt, the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Health Service Executive, HSE, for their perseverance in negotiating a deal on the commercial terms of supply to patients who require this much-needed treatment. This is about patients and the lives of people. It is about improving the quality of life. The negotiations showed the importance of persevering and entering into talks. It is important we pay tribute to Vertex Pharmaceuticals and thank it for its willingness to engage in compromise and negotiation.
There is still a significant amount of work to be done, as Senator Colm Burke said, in keeping the cost of drugs and medications at a point at which people and the State can afford. The significance of this deal will be seen in time. Again, I join with everybody in welcoming the conclusion of talks and hope it can bring a positive outcome. It is a pity it took so long, but it shows that the collective bargaining power of the Government through the HSE is important. I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, for that.
Senators Devine, Mullen, Higgins and Horkan raised the issue of the second interim report of the mother and baby homes commission published yesterday. Senator Devine articulated remarks many of us would share. Rather than divide the House on a sensitive and important issue, I appeal to her to agree to dealing with this after the Easter recess. I am not in a position to bring the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House today but I would be happy for her to come to the House after the Easter recess. All Members are committed to having services and supports put in place for the people who were cruelly abused in these homes. I agree with Senator Devine that it is a shameful period in our history. We must take cognisance that this is an interim report and that the final report has not yet been completed. It is also worth noting the commission has made no findings to date in terms of abuse and neglect, to which Senator Higgins also referred. Rather than divide the House, which would be unnecessary, in the spirit of co-operation, the Government is committed - I am of the same view as the Senator - that we need to see action steps, not just, as some people claim, posturing. This is about the human rights of people which were cruelly denied and abused under the care of so many. I would happily bring the Minister to the House after Easter, if the Senator accepts my bona fides. If she does not, that is a matter for herself.
Senator McDowell proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to take all Stages of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 today. Senators Reilly, Ruane and Craughwell also referred to it. Senator Lawless has put much work into this Bill. I am happy to take Second Stage today. However, there are anomalies in the Bill and taking all Stages today would not lead to good legislation. As Leader, I am committed to working with Senator Lawless, irrespective of whether there will be different views expressed later today in the debate, to have Committee Stage in the House on the last week of May. I also want to pay tribute to the former Senator, Imelda Henry, who did a significant amount of work on this Bill in a different format. I know Senator Lawless would not want me to forget her. I am happy to take Second Stage today. Notwithstanding there will be different viewpoints and those who will not want to see alcohol served in public houses on Good Friday, many Members will want to get this Bill right so it can be enacted by this time next year. I am more than happy to take Committee and Report Stages at a later date.
Senator McDowell also raised the issue of public broadcasting. We are at a serious point in regard to the future remit and role of RTE as our public service broadcaster. I fundamentally agree there needs to be a national debate from Cork to Donegal on the role and the future of broadcasting and RTE as well. I would not like to have to explain to people how we can put a tax on a laptop, an iPad or an iPhone because one can get TV coverage with them. I believe it is a wrong move and that debate needs to be had. I would be happy to have a debate in this House on it. Away from the committee doing work on this matter, this is of fundamental importance to our country. We see our print media under sustained pressure but we have the commercial growth of local radio. I know the Minister published remarks on it but I would be happy to debate this in the House after the Easter recess.
Senators Mulherin and Horkan raised the issue of the post office closures. I would be happy for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House. To be fair, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, was explaining he did not have any responsibility in the matter. Senator Mulherin raised some interesting points about the role of the post office in the future, which merits discussion and consideration. To be fair to her, the fact she has put some of those suggestions on the record this morning is good. I will be happy to have a debate on this subject at a later date.
I commend Senator Kelleher for her work on the Adult Safeguarding Bill. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, had a family bereavement yesterday and that is why yesterday’s debate on migrant integration strategy was cancelled. It will be held on 16 May.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of child poverty. He is correct in that regard. Senator Mullen used the word “posturing” earlier. We have seen much posturing by certain groups over the past several weeks around the issue of water. Notwithstanding the good work Senator Kevin Humphreys did as Minister of State in the Department of Social Protection on child poverty, I hope we will have a debate on this after the Easter recess.
All of us will welcome figures from the Central Statistics Office showing a reduction in the number of children in consistent poverty as a consequence of the policies of the previous Government. Notwithstanding this, 11.5% of children are in consistent poverty and I fully accept that this figure is much too high. It is important to recognise that the Government, in budget 2017, increased the weekly rate of payment for working age schemes and the income disregard for one-parent families. It also introduced additional child care and paternity leave provision. The issue the Senator raises is important and I will be pleased to have it debated in the House.
I join Senator Ó Ríordáin in condemning the allegations made in reports from Chechnya concerning the rounding up and incarceration of members of the LGBT community. I have written to the Russian Ambassador Peshkov on the matter. I would also be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it. There can be no rowing back on the fundamental human rights that have been won across the world. In some countries, the LGBT community has not yet achieved any victories. I am conscious that we have visitors from Australia in the Public Gallery who are working to have human rights made available to all Australian citizens. It is important that the House stand up for the rights of all citizens. The reports from Chechnya are deeply worrying and distressing. As advocates for human rights, we must stand in solidarity with our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia. We cannot allow anyone to be treated in the callous manner described. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter, which was also raised by Senator O'Reilly.
Senators Swanick and Conway-Walsh raised the toll charges incurred by volunteers from Carrick-on-Suir. It is extraordinary that they were charged tolls given that they were returning from volunteering in County Mayo on a major rescue mission to recover the bodies of two missing R116 crewmen. We all hope the bodies will be returned to their families and loved ones, for whom this is a traumatic time. From watching television coverage and listening to radio reports, I am aware of the major voluntary effort that took place along the north-west coast at the weekend. It beggars belief that no cop-on or common sense was shown or no recognition given to the fact that the individuals in question were on a humanitarian mission. I join Senators Swanick and Conway-Walsh in appealing to the company that operates the toll bridges to show common sense and latitude in this case. Perhaps the Senators will raise it as a Commencement Matter with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The House must also take up the issue.
Senators Craughwell and Wilson raised the issue of entrepreneurship in education and training boards. The local enterprise offices are engaged in work to increase employment. It is important that they work together with the education and training boards. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator O'Mahony raised the issue of the N4 and N5 motorway projects. He has consistently advocated their prioritisation as part of the mid-term capital review. I hope the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, will come to the House after Easter because we need to discuss the mid-term capital review. We also need to have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, before the House for a discussion on the Ireland 2040 plan which deals with regional and economic development and the locations at which we will build and concentrate population masses.
I welcome Senator Conway-Walsh back to the House and wish her well. She referred to the case of Evan Morrissey which was outlined yesterday in the coroner's court. There are protocols in place to deal with medical negligence. I sympathise with the family of Mr. Morrissey and all those who have been the victims of misdiagnosis. To be fair to health professionals, their record in this regard is good. I will be happy to have a debate on the issue.
Senators Dolan and McFadden raised the case of Áras Attracta and disability issues. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Finian McGrath, is committed to delivering a comprehensive package for the disability sector and I will be pleased to have him come to the House to discuss disability issues.
I welcome the decision of the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Water Services and hope the issue of water charges has been addressed for the last time. I pay tribute to Senator Ó Céidigh for his excellent stewardship of the committee. He demonstrated a willingness to go the extra mile, while being fair, impartial and stern when necessary. It is important to recognise the significance of yesterday's developments.
He had a great deal to put up with.
Yes, and I am glad Senator Mullen was not on the committee because the Chairman would have had much more to put up with.
As Senator Buttimer well knows, I would have been one of the constructive voices on this issue.
Senator Mullen walks on water.
If Senator Mullen can walk on water, he should patent it and make a fortune. He is committed to healing wounds.
I thank Senator Buttimer for what I think was a compliment.
He gives the odd dig too.
I am sure the issue of water will be debated again when the report and legislation come before the House. Those who peddle a certain line must recognise that the provision of clean drinking water does not come cheaply. In County Cork, raw sewage equating to 40,000 full wheelie bins is being pumped into the River Lee and out to sea every week. This sends a message to all of us, as responsible legislators, to be clear in what we stand for in the provision of drinking water and clean waterways.
I sympathise again with Senator Gavan on his bereavement. The Senator raised the appearance at a committee yesterday of Ms Patricia King at which she referred to low pay. This issue is linked to the contribution made by Senator Ó Ríordáin. It should be recognised that the previous Government increased the minimum wage, removed the requirement to pay the universal social charge from a large number of people and is committed to ensuring more people return to work. Unemployment stands at 6.4%, which is good news that Senators on the other side may not want to hear. It is not fake news or alternative facts but the truth. Having a job helps people to get out of poverty.
I join Senator Ruane in congratulating the UISCE organisation on the launch of its strategic plan. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, came to the House to discuss equality.
Senator McFadden raised unfilled posts in child and adolescent mental health services. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Mullen raised a host of issues in the context of posturing on the new national children's hospital. At the risk of causing a row with the Senator, which I do not want, the debate on the children's hospital is about political posturing and populism at one level. I was Chairman of the Committee on Health and Children in the previous Dáil when members visited the St. James's Hospital site and carried out an independent review of the work on its suitability. More important, following decades of discussion and debate, the previous Government took a decision to locate the new hospital on the site and an independent panel of international experts examined the suitability of the site, the board, structures and so forth. The debate must now focus on delivering the hospital, progressing the needs of children who require urgent facilities and having transparency on costs. I hope there will not be a cost overrun.
Senator Buttimer should tell that to the Jack and Jill Foundation. Taxpayers are worried about hundreds of millions of euro. It appears we are back in the Celtic tiger days of waste and there has been no debate about it.
Please allow the Leader to continue without interruption.
There is a lot of vested interest in that hospital. What I and the Government are committed to-----
People like Jimmy Sheehan do not have vested interests.
I have met them all. I have heard everybody. What we must do is build a hospital. Let us get it done for the children and parents who require it.
The right hospital in the right place
We are well over time and we have a very busy schedule today. We have a CPP meeting after this and-----
I am doing my best. Half the problem, as the Cathaoirleach said, is that many people have raised more than one issue. I have to reply to them all. The Cathaoirleach is dead right.
It is a unifying theme.
Senator Higgins raised the issue of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She raised an interesting point but, to be fair, the Government has committed to redressing the wrongs of the past. We will have that debate if Senator Devine will accept my proposal.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of costs, which I have discussed.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the Taoiseach's speech at the Famine memorial in Philadelphia. The Government is working on the options paper which will be presented at the Global Irish Forum in May. This Easter week, it is important to reflect upon and remember the men and women of 1916 and the events that happened that week and in those afterwards. Senator Feighan mentioned the Assembly elections, which were six weeks ago. I note the talks have been suspended today until after Easter. All of us, North and South, have an obligation to reflect upon what happened in 1916 and beyond. The legacy we have been left with is that all of us, of whatever political hue, must work together. None of us wants to see a return to direct rule in the North. I hope we can see both sides coming to an agreement so we can have an assembly up and functioning.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of online shopping and the Retail Excellence Ireland report. It is important that we support local areas and shop locally. I appeal to all people and all Members of the House to shop locally this Easter weekend. The temptation is to shop online. It is critical we support small, local enterprises.
I join with Senator Horkan, who raised the issue of Bus Éireann, in hoping for a resolution to the dispute. I have spoken to and met with bus workers in Cork and the issue is before the Labour Court today. It is having a profound impact not only on the bus workers and their families, but also on local shops, restaurants, cafes and all types of shops and commercial activity in the city of Cork, in particular, which I am familiar with. It is important we get a resolution so we can have buses back on the road taking people to different parts of the country on a holiday weekend. We also need a resolution on the issue of Bus Éireann for the workers, many of whom are not on the rates of pay being attributed to them by some in the media. It is important that there is a resolution.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the Irish horse racing industry. It is important that we congratulate young Fox, the jockey, on his great ride in the Grand National last weekend on One for Arthur from Sligo. He is an Irish jockey. The Senator is right that the Turf Club needs an examination. It seems to be a law unto itself when some of its decisions are mystifying from afar. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House.
Senator Noone raised the issue of hospital parking guidelines. She refers to the need for a designated person. She has raised a good point on the issue of the hospitals. There are derogations and waivers given but the Senator makes a good point. She also made a point about the concession being advertised and displayed.
Senator Davitt again raised the extremely important issue of rates and the revaluation of rates. Both he and Senator Butler are very strong on that matter. The Senator is right to raise the issue. I am happy to have the debate in the House. It is about the future of our small and not so small towns. It is also about the viability of our small, rural businesses which are pivotal in drawing people to rural Ireland and creating employment.
I will not accept the proposed amendments but I am happy to work with the Senators in the interest of co-operation rather than dividing the House on both issues.
Senator McDowell proposed an amendment to the Order of Business.
I withdraw the amendment.
Senator Devine has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that there be a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the interim report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes today. Is the amendment being pressed?
Far be it for me to divide the House. I will withdraw the proposed amendment if the Leader will confirm that the Minister can come to the Chamber before the end of May to have a further debate. I thank all the other Senators. As a House, we can work together on this.
I am happy to work with the Senator to get a date for the Minister before the end of May.
Is Senator Devine happy with that?
Yes. I withdraw the amendment.