The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the mid-term capital review and report of the Public Service Pay Commission, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 6.20 p.m.; and No. 2, Criminal Justice Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
It is with further horror that I raise the issue of the continued neglect of our children who are suffering at the hands of this State. I raised the issue last week in light of the report of the Ombudsman for Children.
Today, I highlight the report by Government rapporteur for child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, who commented that there was a much greater co-operation needed between An Garda Síochána and Tusla to protect our most vulnerable children. There are reports of cases where children were taken from their homes under the powers of section 12 by gardaí only to be returned later that day by Tusla. We understood after the children's referendum in 2012 that more protection rights and care would be afforded to our children. However, report after report published in recent weeks highlight the gross inadequacies and chronic systems failures within organisations in this State that are charged with the responsibility of looking after our children.
Widespread neglect of children under Tusla's watch is endemic. As we know, Tusla is under-resourced along with other areas of the public service. The Government's failed recruitment policy in Tusla and other areas of the HSE has left many posts unfilled due to the inability to recruit or retain staff. The staff in situ are swamped by huge caseloads and the massively complex nature of the cases they handle. I have great admiration and respect for those social workers working within the limited-resourced Tusla. I also note that the report acknowledges the compassion members of the Garda Síochana had for the children they removed from their parents' care under section 12, whereby many rank and file gardaí stayed long after their rostered hours to ensure the appropriate care was provided for children.
All of us in this House have harrowing stories of shortcomings within the system that present at our clinics. However, Dr. Shannon's report alone gives 91 examples of harrowing cases of the abject failure by this State in the care of our children. I ask that the Minister attend the House so we can have an open debate on Tusla and the resources available to it and the massive caseloads that are not being dealt with on a daily basis. It is something we have all encountered. I do not know what the solution is and I do not know how the current social workers will get through their caseloads.
I also raise the issue of hospice services. Harold's Cross hospice in Dublin gives care to 700 patients each year. That is an average of two patients dying daily who were in receipt of its services. Enough cannot be said of how appreciative people are for the care and support given to many families by Harold's Cross Hospice alone and the hospice movement in general. I commend my colleague, Senator Gallagher on raising this last week. Proper credit ought to be given to the hospice movement.
I raise the same issue as Senator Ardagh. I call on the Leader to organise for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zaponne, to come to the House. I want to impress the importance of this today because of the report on child protection by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, which was commissioned by An Garda Síochána and published yesterday. It is a damning report. It highlights really serious issues and grave concerns about failings to protect Irish children. It addresses a number of matters. In summary this report notes a lack of adequate out-of-hours social work services; a lack of access to case files to enable effective decisions for child safety and child protection; a lack of reliable data on the PULSE system in relation to section 4 removals; which is the statutory process of removing a child for its safety and welfare; a lack of training, resources and support for gardaí in exercising their functions and duties in relation to section 12 removals; a lack of clarity around the responsibilities of Tusla - and we do not need to talk more about that, we have talked about it so much here in the past few weeks - and the role and functions of An Garda Síochána and other State agencies. There is a shortfall here and a misunderstanding about the roles, functions and statutory responsibilities of all these organisations supposedly involved in the welfare and protection of our children. The use of Garda stations as a place of safety for a child, which is against international best practice, has been highlighted in this report by Dr. Shannon. There are concerns about the use of some private fostering services. These are really serious issues. In summary, Dr. Shannon makes 17 recommendations in his report. Every time there is a controversy in this country, the Government of the day commissions a report, recommendations are made and the report sits on a top shelf gathering dust. Shame on us if we do nothing here today.
Dr. Shannon has clearly set out strong, workable and practical solutions that need to be addressed in 17 recommendations. I call on the Government, An Garda Síochána and Tusla to commit to implementing all the recommendations in his report. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House to debate the issues with a view to setting out a comprehensive plan to address the recommendations within two weeks? Hopefully, I will have the support of all Senators in seeking a full report on how the Department will roll out the plans that have been set out. I would also like a full plan outlining a detailed implementation strategy to address all the recommendations, which should be presented to the House within three months. Ultimately, recommendations are meaningless unless action is taken. We have an opportunity today to start this process and to have the Minister in the House to set out how she will address our concerns.
I refer to the same subject. I ask that the Minister be requested to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss the report of the special rapporteur on child protection. The horrific findings of this report should not be a surprise because children across the State continue to be neglected and abused in their own homes. The perpetrators of these crimes and this awfulness in many instances are the parents of the children but the State has a responsibility to protect the children, including under the Constitution, which provides for the State to cherish all our children.
Many crocodile tears have been shed about how children were treated in the past, yet this abuse continues. The number of social workers needed to keep children safe is wholly inadequate and it has been for many years under successive Governments. Children going home from school today are afraid of the abuse and the neglect they will face but nobody will come to help. Their neighbours and relatives call social services and wait for a social worker who never comes. The Minister needs to come to the House to outline what plans she is putting in place. Urgency is needed in this regard because an hour or a day in the life of a child who is going through torture and abuse is a long time. Last night's "Prime Time" report made clear this abuse is continuing and that is a horrific indictment on us as a State.
I move an amendment to the Order of Business, that Second Stage of No. 9 be taken today or tomorrow. The Bill seeks to help those in financial difficulty by allowing them to access services of the Financial Services Ombudsman even after the six year cut-off point. The longer it takes for this Bill to be enacted, the more suffering will be endured by those in need of solutions. This is an opportunity for the House to prove its worth by facilitating the quick passage of this legislation, which received cross-party support in the Dáil. I hope the Leader can facilitate that.
If the Senator moves an amendment, it has to relate to that day's business.
It is for today.
Otherwise, she will put the Leader in a dilemma. I take it she wants to move the amendment today.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that clarification.
I listened to Dr. Geoffrey Shannon earlier talk about the findings in his report, which are devastating. The entire country is impacted by what we heard. While the report as a whole is harrowing, I was particularly struck by the clear focus on alcohol abuse in Ireland and how it impacts on child welfare. It is time that we started to talk about it.
It states that in a significant number of the 90 cases reviewed as part of the audit, it was evident that drug and-or alcohol abuse by parents was compromising their ability to care for their child. In one instance a one-year old child was found wandering alone in a housing estate because its mother was under the influence of alcohol. Cases like this cannot continue to happen in our communities.
Dr. Shannon was clear on "Morning Ireland" in his pleas for us to wake up to the harm alcohol abuse is causing. He said that the biggest challenge facing society is the adverse consequences for the welfare of many children posed by alcohol. Drug and alcohol abuse are a key feature of the report and have a very damaging effect on children. Society's failure to address alcohol is a fundamental issue and places insurmountable problems on the child protection system. It is not just about Tusla or the Garda; it is about society and our ambivalence to alcohol and substance misuse.
Sadly, this is no surprise to me as I have worked with people suffering from alcohol abuse and addiction for many years. I work with their families and deal with this on a daily basis. The onus is on the State to step up and take responsibility, and we, as legislators, must make that happen. However, since it was first introduced, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has languished in the Oireachtas for over 500 days. This is despite repeated Government commitments that it would take action on the issue. The Bill contains sensible, evidence-based, workable measures to reduce alcohol harm and the Government must proceed with it as a matter of urgency. Dr. Shannon's report only emphasises this further. When will the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill be reintroduced in this Chamber so that we can get on with our work tackling this serious issue? For every one day that we let this go, three people die and our organisation is dealing with the family members. Something has to be done and we need to do it quickly.
I acknowledge the decision made on the national maternity hospital and I hope it proceeds with all speed. It is a badly needed hospital. The building on Holles Street is very old and not fit for purpose. I would like to see the new national maternity hospital built as soon as possible. I acknowledge the work the public did in highlighting the role of the religious orders. I compliment the Sisters of Charity on making what I believe is the right decision in withdrawing from it. I also acknowledge the work the Minister, Deputy Harris, has done behind the scenes. Too often we stand here and criticise people but do not acknowledge when good work is done behind the scenes.
I also acknowledge the strategy of the all-party Committee on the Future of Healthcare, published this morning. Deputy Shortall and the committee members have done an excellent job on which I compliment them.
IMPACT published a document on a just transition to a low-carbon economy, which is a very worthy report. We should at the earliest possible time debate the overall effect of moving to a low-carbon economy. As with all things, there will be winners and losers and it is important that there be a just transition. That just transition cannot just be in Ireland; it needs to happen on a global basis. It would be worthwhile debating it in a wider sense.
I welcome that the new accident and emergency department in University Hospital Limerick opened at 8 a.m. yesterday. It was wonderful to see the new facilities there. I know the staff had a very busy day yesterday. Earlier in the week some of the more senior staff expressed concerns over whether some of the new staff appointed would be able to cope under the pressure of the opening with increased numbers coming through the doors. I welcome that the hospital committed to appointing a clinical skills facilitator who will ensure that enough senior staff are working with the more junior and newly qualified staff. This is to be welcomed on health and safety grounds. Those of us in Limerick and the wider region have waited a long time for this. I know the problems will not be solved overnight. I wish the existing and new staff the very best for the future.
I would like to again raise the issue of Brexit. Recent evidence that has emerged from the Irish Exporters Association clearly shows Government inaction in regard to preparing Irish business for what lies ahead. The Irish Exporters Association has described business as "woefully unprepared for Brexit", which is very worrying and is something the Government would need to sit up and take notice of. The Irish Exporters Association has made several suggestions, all of which appear reasonable, such as increased investment in infrastructure such as broadband, which it describes as "embarrassing", upskilling of SMEs and the development of new trade links.
There seems to be a gap between what businesses need from Government and what is actually being provided. It is clear we need to open up new markets to deal with the post-Brexit situation. It is worrying that the small sum of €4.6 million is all the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has allocated towards business this year to deal with this threat. This means the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia combined will receive a total of €4.6 million to deal with what most commentators say is the greatest economic threat ever to hit this country. Businesses, particularly those in the Border area, feel very exposed and let down.
It is clear there is a major issue. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ensure the Taoiseach and his Cabinet are aware of the suggestions of the Irish Exporters Association and that the threats it clearly indicates exist are acted upon as a matter of urgency.
I raise on the Order of Business for the second time the impending major disaster for many Irish homeowners, particularly in the Dublin region, of the consequences of the increase in the local property tax. It is about to go up by some 50% and the European Union is now proposing that we should accelerate the revaluation.
It is rack-renting.
I want to make one point. There could be two families, one of whom lives in a small red-brick terraced house somewhere between here and Ringsend, for example, and who could have a 90% mortgage on a house which cost them between €450,000 and €500,000. The other family could live in a 6,000 sq. ft. restored Georgian or Victorian villa in the midlands and, based on the property price website I recently looked at, they would be liable for the same amount. The family in Ringsend, as I said, might have a mortgage of 80% or 90% on their house whereas the family in the midlands might have none and might also have a farm of 300 acres but would contribute the same amount as the family in Dublin to their local authority. The unfairness of all of this is that the tax does not in any sense reflect the actual wealth of the owners, in particular if there is a 90% mortgage.
The second point is that there is a way to deal with this, that is, to provide for a different system of valuation and banding of houses in local authority areas so that, if one does live in a very substantial house outside Dublin, one should pay more to the local authority, and if one has a very large farm, one should pay more to the local authority than a family in Dublin in those circumstances.
When it comes to defraying the cost of local government in Ireland, the family living between here and Ringsend might have as their principal breadwinner a man or woman who is also renting office accommodation or some kind of workplace in Dublin, and they might be paying up to €900 on their home and €2,000 in commercial rates, whereas the couple living in the large place in Longford or Laois might be paying only €900 to their local authority. This is unfair.
One local authority that has only raised €2 million in local property tax, LPT, from its residents and has received €7 million in transferred money from Dubliners actually voted to reduce its LPT rate by the 15% to which it was entitled. That is grossly unfair. The situation is a ticking time bomb. It is on the front pages of today's editions of the Daily Mail and the Irish Independent. The time has come for us to address this unfairness. People in different parts of the country are being treated unequally and people who are of modest means and who struggle to make a living in this city are being treated unfairly compared with people elsewhere. The Minister for Finance or the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, or whoever assumes responsibility for LPT in its present form should be called before the House to address the issue.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Boyhan.
I do not believe that there was a formal proposal from Senator Boyhan.
I took him to be proposing an amendment.
He asked that the Minister attend,-----
-----but he did not move an amendment to that effect.
The Senator cannot speak again. I am sorry but I was listening carefully because I expected an amendment to be moved. None was, though.
Maybe some other colleague might-----
I cannot allow Senators to speak twice to say that they should have done this or that. My apologies. I call Senator Colm Burke.
What about me?
The Senator had not indicated but this is a priority, so I will allow the other Senator in as soon as possible.
Today's CSO figures show a continuing increase in the number of people in employment. The number in full-time employment has increased in real terms by 84,000 in the past 12 months. A wide range of people have returned to employment with increases in 11 of the 14 sectors. In the construction industry, there are 11,000 more people in employment. In the IT sector, there has been an increase of 7,500 people. We are beginning to experience a skills shortage in some areas, particularly construction. Should Members have a debate on how our educational institutions are adapting to changing needs? There is also a skills shortage in the restaurant trade. Recently, I spoke to someone who was opening a new restaurant in Cork. That person was finding it difficult to get chefs. It is a common complaint across the country. We must consider this matter and determine whether our educational institutions can adapt. What action is the Minister taking in this regard? Having a debate on the matter at an early stage would be appropriate.
I welcome this morning's decision by the Supreme Court effectively declaring the ban on asylum seekers from working to be unconstitutional.
A Burmese man who spent eight years in direct provision has won his Supreme Court appeal over the legal ban preventing him from working. The court has adjourned the matter for six months to allow the Legislature to consider the matter. According to Mr. Justice O'Donnell, “This damage to the individual’s’ self worth and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right [to seek employment] seeks to guard against.” The right to work for asylum seekers is a fundamental one that has been denied for far too long. It is a matter that many others and I have raised directly with the Minister of State in the past. Regrettably, he has always been adamant that under no circumstances would he consider the issue of the right to work.
I have visited the direct provision centre in Knockalisheen and seen at first hand adults sitting and staring into space as the day goes by with nothing to do. I have spoken to staff who have been at pains to stress the negative effects on asylum seekers of being prevented from working for years at a time. In 2015, the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions described the direct provision system as not being fit for purpose. In the same report, HIQA stated that it had grave concerns about the mental health of those in such a system. In 2015, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights called it a severe violation of human rights, yet previous Governments have stood by the system.
So did Sinn Féin.
Last week, we saw horrific reports from the Mosney direct provision accommodation centre whereby residents were being sold out-of-date food for consumption - chicken meat that was two months out of date - leading to food poisoning.
The residents of Mosney are being forced into a system of segregated shopping rather than being allowed buy food at a regular shop like everyone else. There is a very real scandal over the huge profits being made by companies administrating direct provision on behalf of this Government. Ireland is, in fact, one of only two countries in Europe that does not recognise the Reception Conditions Directive. I ask that the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, come to the House to debate this matter and explain what action he intends to take to bring us in line with this ruling.
The direct provision system is a system of shame. Direct provision needs to be abolished. The Government should close all 32 centres and allow applicants the right to work and have access to the labour market. People should not be forced to live in institutionalised living conditions. They deserve to be properly integrated into the community and proper access to third-level education.
I call Senator Norris.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I want to second Senator Conway-Walsh's proposal. Apologies for-----
I am sorry. Which one?
Senator Conway-Walsh's amendment.
On behalf of Senator Boyhan, I propose that the Leader organises a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, about the Shannon child abuse report.
Senator Gavan has, in a sense, stolen my clothes because I was the first person to introduce this matter into the House a number of Parliaments ago-----
By way of clarification, is the Senator proposing that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, comes to the House to address that matter today?
I have raised the question of direct provision over a long number of years. I actually prepared legislation on it, which has been introduced twice. It is on the Order Paper, so it could be moved at any time.
This decision was interesting because it was a unanimous decision of the seven-person Supreme Court. As has been stated, the case was taken by a Burmese man who has been eight years in direct provision. It has been adjourned for six months to see what the Oireachtas will do about it. This situation has been in place since 1996. There are currently 3,500 asylum seekers ready to work but who are barred from doing so.
I speak with some strength on this matter because when my Bill was introduced in the last Seanad, we had the numbers to put it through and I had the support of Sinn Féin. However, extraordinarily, at the last moment, Sinn Féin withdrew its support and the Bill collapsed. I say to Sinn Féin that it could have had this matter addressed-----
It could have had people working now if its members had not, in a dog in a manger fashion, removed their names. It was an area in which Sinn Féin had actually done an awful lot of work, for which I will give it credit. It had worked at the committees and had worked very hard but that is no reason for withdrawing its support. The reasons given in this House were totally specious. It said among other things that I had not made provision for work. It is on page five or six of the Bill and I pointed out that the three things it said were missing were all in the Bill.
I welcome the fact Sinn Féin is on board now but when it was crucial and when Seanad Éireann could have done something, it removed its support.
I call Senator Feighan.
Ciúnas, le do thoil.
I listened with worrying interest-----
I thought the Cathaoirleach said cuteness. I thought it was a reference to Fianna Fáil.
He is after silencing Senator Gavan. We should mark the day.
Senator Feighan, le do thoil. Let the Senator continue.
I listened with worrying interest yesterday to the radio. A man called David Murray who went to Kildare and was falsely-----
I would prefer not to mention names here.
I am sorry but it was mentioned on the radio yesterday.
I stopped somebody doing it earlier. It is a bad habit. It may not be the person himself or herself but some relative or next of kin might say they were named in the Seanad and that is inappropriate.
I am only paraphrasing what was mentioned on the radio yesterday. This man was falsely identified as a convicted child abuser and he received vile verbal abuse from, effectively, a mob which followed him in Monasterevin in County Kildare. His photograph and his name were put up on a website. People who have any issues should contact the Garda. This man took refuge in a pub in Monasterevin.
The Garda Síochána effectively had to rescue him from a vigilante mob. During his interview on radio, this man was very articulate and measured but he did point out that no one had apologised or admitted they got it wrong. There is an atmosphere in this country now of people falsely accusing other people on social media. The Garda Síochána is the proper authority to deal with this sort of situation. I appeal to people not to take the law into their own hands and not to ignore that this man has rights and should be protected. As I said, this man, though not physically assaulted, was abused vilely. In these types of situations, people should contact the Garda Síochána and not try to take the law into their own hands.
I agree with previous speakers. I welcome the announcement today of 120 new jobs at Merck, Sharp & Dohme in Carlow. It is a great achievement for Carlow, along with all the other new jobs announced throughout the country. Merck, Sharp & Dohme provides great employment in Carlow, as do many other factories. Well done to them all.
And to the Minister.
I want to revisit the issue of revaluations, about which I have grave concerns.
The Senator cannot give praise.
Please, Leader, do not tease Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I am raising this issue again today because a new appeals system will come into effect in September. While there have been meetings held by some local authorities around the criteria and so on, there are also new categories provided for this time. I am calling on the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to address this issue, which is not only a Carlow issue but a national issue. In regard to crèches, for example, the rate applicable to a purpose-built crèche is cheaper than the rate applicable to a crèche located in a house. That is unacceptable. There are pubs and other businesses similarly affected. This new appeals system needs to work. As I understand it, it will be similar to the system that applies in respect of the local property tax. There have already been rate increases in certain areas and decreases in others. If we do not get this right, businesses will close.
When I last raised this issue, the Leader told me it was a matter for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney. However, I have since found out that the system has changed and it now comes within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to address us on this issue? Members of her own party do not know who is in charge of the revaluation process. As I said, this is a national issue and there is a great deal of confusion around it in different areas. Can I count on the Leader to have the Minister come to the House to address us on the matter?
The Senator could have met her in Carlow on Friday night.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Norris on behalf of Senator Boyhan. An opinion piece in yesterday's thejournal.ie, written by a law lecturer in NUI Galway, Dr. Brian Tobin, highlighted the fact we still do not have crucial parental rights for same-sex married couples. The article showed how parental rights conferred by the passing of civil marriage equality and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 have yet to be realised. I have spoken before about how the referendum conferred a variety of civil rights by equalising marriage, including guardianship, kinship, succession and shared parental rights. Same-sex adoptive parents or parents who conceive by assisted reproduction have yet to be granted equal parental status, meaning that one parent is not seen as a legal parent. For example, a non-legal parent does not have kinship rights such that he or she cannot make emergency medical decisions on behalf of the child, cannot remove the child from school in emergency circumstances and has no legal entitlement to custody should the marriage break down. Also, the child has no entitlement to the non-legal parent's estate should he or she die without having made a will.
Same-sex couples who wish to conceive by assisted reproduction or to adopt have yet to be catered for. This matter could be solved by three acts of Government. First, the commencement of sections 20 and 23 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. I call on the Minister to come before the House to explain the delay and outline the expected timeline for the commencement of the Act as it was signed into law over two years ago.
Second, I call on the Government to return the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the House for Report and Final Stages in order that the legislation can be enacted without delay thus guaranteeing the rights of same-sex couples who wish to adopt.
The Leader may have spotted a number of families standing outside the building today. They seek to raise awareness of Lyme disease. In my own county of Donegal as many as 60 persons have come forward to highlight the fact that they have been diagnosed with Lyme disease. There is resistance in the community of medical professionals to acknowledge the prevalence of Lyme disease as a real issue, particularly chronic Lyme disease.
I shall briefly share one story. A mother talked to me about what happened to her daughter who was a gymnast. The mother showed me a picture of the two of them standing in front of Leinster House earlier this year. Her daughter has endured excruciating pain in almost every part of her body, her hair has fallen out and eventually she was confined to a wheelchair. Medical professionals advised her mother that the ailments were all in her daughter's head, which is outrageous. People from all across Ireland have come forward to tell us that medical professionals have told them that their ailments are a figment of their imagination just because they cannot attribute the symptoms to rheumatology, neurology or whatever. We have to do better.
Tick Talk Ireland is a group that has emerged to represent people from across Ireland who suffer chronic Lyme disease. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to meet the delegation so that he can hear their stories and, thus, understand the issue. I would also like Opposition spokespersons on health to attend the same meeting. I ask the Leader to make that request on behalf of the House today, which I am sure he will support.
I wish to again mention Jadotville. I call on the Leader to arrange a meeting with the Minister in order to resolve the matter.
Finally, I wish to mention the presentation of 1916 medals to the fire and rescue service, which is only fair. Firemen from different parts of Ireland have raised this matter with me. The Defence Forces, members of An Garda Síochána and the National Ambulance Service received 1916 commemorative medals. The only front-line emergency service to be omitted was the fire and rescue service. Fire and rescue personnel should get a medal, even retrospectively. They want the medal. I ask the Leader to report back to me about the matter. I have raised the matter three times without a response. No progress has been made. Instead, people have passed the buck claiming the matter is not their responsibility. We need somebody to take control and admit that it was a mistake or an oversight but one that will be remedied. That is all we are asking for here.
I thank the 12 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.
To begin with, I welcome Jamie Lyne who is seated in the public Gallery. He is from County Cork and is here as part of his transition year. I welcome him to the House. I hope he has a very pleasant experience.
I thank Senators Ardagh, Boyhan, Conway-Walsh, Norris and Warfield who mentioned the publication of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's report yesterday. The report is a damning indictment and makes for grim reading. It is important to recognise that the report spans a seven-year period from 2008 to 2015.
I am a former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, which was involved in the inception of Tusla. Therefore, I know that work is being done. Like many of the Senators present, I wish to commend the social workers and the people who work in Tusla for the work that they do and acknowledge that they work in trying circumstances. We have had a children's rights referendum. We have introduced a Child and Family Agency. We have brought forward a number of important pieces of legislation that deal with rights and protections for children.
I know from speaking to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, that she is very determined to improve child protection. The work of Tusla is at a critical phase. We must now ensure that we do not go backwards. We must not blame a lack of resources, systems failure or structural impediments.
We must ensure there is real social protection given to the children of our State because, as Senator Conway-Walsh has said, in the case of those at home there is a need for the State to intervene, and as Senator Black has rightly said we as a society and a community must stand up to the blight of alcohol that is damaging many of our children because of what happens at home. I will come back to the alcohol aspect shortly but this is very important.
It is also important to put on the record of the House that in the context of Tusla and An Garda Síochána, work has been done and they are now ready to sign a protocol in respect of the operation of section 12. Senator Boyhan has come back to the House. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, is willing and agreeable to come to the House tomorrow to discuss the matter. She cannot come in this evening. I have not got an exact time yet for tomorrow but we will work on that. The Minister cannot come tonight and I cannot do miracles for the Senator. I have worked with him in the past, and the Minister is prepared to come to the House tomorrow.
I will now turn to the Children First guidelines. The guidelines require, as Members know quite well, a formal protocol between An Garda Síochána and Tusla regarding the protection of children in care and child welfare. The report is very damning and it is very serious. The issues were raised by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, a very eminent person who deserves to be congratulated for his work. It is important that we find from within his report a roadmap where can see, as Senator Boyhan has said, the solutions to be put forward.
In the past number of months, the emergency out-of-hours service has been significantly expanded. There is now full national cover for this service in four areas: Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow and Cork city. These areas all have full social work service where social workers are available to engage directly with the children concerned. Importantly, gardaí now have full access to the child protection notification system, which they did not have in 2015. When we rush to commentary it is important to recognise that emergency foster care is not necessarily suitable for all children in all circumstances and that there are some exceptional circumstances where there is a residential placement made more available. From talking to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, I know that she is very much committed to it.
Like the Taoiseach, we are all upset by the report. We all want to see the imagery and the harrowing viewing from last night rectified. Nobody wants to see children unloved, in fear and unprotected in our country. We all must allow, empower and enable Tusla to do its job. This issue is a protection issue about our children. It is not, as the Taoiseach has said, about protecting jobs, structures or systems. It is about ensuring that in this case there are answers from Tusla and that An Garda Síochána answers for what it is liable for. I know that the Taoiseach and the Minister are planning to meet with all involved. There is nothing more important in our society than the protection of children and the right of the child to be in a safe and secure environment. Nobody is happy with the latest report. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, is available to come to the House tomorrow and I would be happy to have her in the House on that matter.
I join with Senator Ardagh regarding the hospice movement. I commend those who work in the Harold's Cross hospice. In Cork city, we have a tremendous hospice in Marymount. The people who work there provide huge support, assistance, care and especially love to people who are, in some cases, on their last passage of life. It is a huge source of solace and encouragement to families. I will have the Minister come to the House on that issue.
I shall not accept Senator Conway-Walsh's amendment to the Order of Business. Sinn Féin has Private Members' time when it can move that. Private Members' time will be in the first week we are back. The House has set a precedent with Senator Bacik's Bill as the example. That went through the House and commenced in the Labour Party's Private Members' time. Sinn Féin is well able to use its own Private Members' time in regard to the matter outlined by Senator Conway-Walsh this afternoon.
With regard to Senator Black's point, it is the hoped that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 will have concluded its journey in this House prior to the summer recess.
I know from my discussions with those in the Department and the Minister of State that we are endeavouring to have the Bill back. The Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, is anxious to have the Bill enacted. As Senator Black said quite rightly, there are huge issues with alcohol in our society. It is important that we have the matter addressed. It is not 500 days since the Bill was brought before the House; we are not here 500 days. However, it is important that we get the Bill passed. I recommend to all of us in the House that we try to expedite it because it is important legislation.
I share Senator Kevin Humphreys' joy. It is good news that we have seen, hopefully, the issue around the national maternity hospital addressed. I welcome the decision by the Sisters of Charity. It is important that we allow the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to bring that to a fruitful conclusion so that we can see the new hospital built and mothers, newborn babies and infants receiving care in a building that befits 21st century Ireland.
The Senator also made reference to the all-party health committee. Notwithstanding that there is no Member of Seanad Éireann on the committee, which is a pity, I commend it on its work regarding the future of our health care. The report is an important one that deserves to be debated. One of Deputy Harris's first acts as Minister was to put this group together. It is a ten-year strategy for our health system and an opportunity to get our health system right with regard to spending and putting a structure in place. I would be happy to have a discussion in the House on the report.
Senator Byrne congratulated the HSE and those behind the new emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. I am disappointed Senator Gavan in his contribution did not share the good news about the hospital given he had been complaining recently about it. I thought he might have joined in the congratulatory remarks of Senator Byrne. It is a pity he did not have an all-party approach to it. I know he will welcome the investment in capital infrastructure in the hospital in Limerick. As Senator Byrne said, it is also important that, in terms of the issue around the skills shortage and the staffing shortage, the appointment of a clinical skills co-ordinator will take place.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of Brexit. This is the most important political issue for us as a country. He spoke about the Irish Exporters Association. With the Irish Exporters Association, the farming associations, the tourism bodies and IBEC, a huge amount of work is being done to highlight and promulgate issues around Brexit. It is important that all of us, as Members of the House, work with all organisations to ensure that there is a common approach to Brexit and that we can get the best deal for us as a country. Senator Gallagher raised some issues such as broadband, jobs and tourism and he is correct to raise them.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of the local property tax. I thought for a minute he was at the Fine Gael hustings on the local property tax because it was-----
They are following me closely.
I am glad the Senator is following it closely.
No; I said they are following me closely.
They are all following me.
I think the Senator was referred to, if not by name, in a couple of the remarks in the debate. I am pleased to say that I have a membership application in my pocket. If the Senator wishes to join, he is more than welcome.
Rejoin, I should say. We are open to new members. It would be always good to have more friends back.
We miss you.
Tell Deputy O'Connell about that before you do that.
As the Senator knows, in 2015 the Thornhill approach addressed the issue regarding local property tax. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has outlined a deferral of the system in terms of the change in re-evaluation.
It should be abolished. It is rack-renting.
We can come back to that on another day. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss how we can look at the distribution of the proceeds of the local property tax. I am sure the Senator will have a lot to say on the matter. It is a contentious issue. Those from outside Dublin will have a view on it, in particular those from some of the smaller counties that depend on central government to give them Exchequer funding. By addition, I understand the frustration that was expressed by Members here on behalf of their, dare I say, constituents, being inhabitants of the capital in terms of the payment.
On behalf of themselves.
That is true, too.
Please do not interrupt.
I join Senators Gavan and Norris in welcoming the announcement by the Supreme Court this morning in respect of direct provision. People must have been following the Fine Gael leadership hustings at the weekend. It was discussed there and people were very much of the view that those in direct provision should be able to work. I am sure the Senators will be very happy to see that.
I did not know the Supreme Court follows the Fine Gael leadership.
I ask the Leader to reintroduce my Bill in Government time.
I hope the Leader is not suggesting that the Fine Gael hustings had an influence on the court's decision.
I certainly hope not. Senator McDowell has long been a proponent of the independence of the Judiciary from the political classes. I am sure he has not moved away from that position, unless he has joined the former Senator and current Minister, Deputy Ross, in a new journey that we have not heard about.
In respect of direct provision, many of us have been in the centres and have been unhappy with the conditions for those living there. Senator McFadden and I have raised the matter in the House as well. At the risk of repeating ourselves, our party has a member who is living in direct provision in Cork city. That person is a very strong party member and articulates very passionately the issues in respect of direct provision at our meetings. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, came to the House and discussed the matter. We have seen progress made. I would love to see the direct provision centres gone. That would be fantastic. However, we must recognise that new home cooking facilities went live in Mosney on 23 January this year. Cooking facilities have been rolled out in other centres, for example, Killarney, Athlone and Limerick, and teenager rooms are in some centres. We must ensure we roll out further progress with a view to perhaps getting rid of it altogether.
I am not familiar with the issues raised in respect of segregated shopping. I have not experienced that. I know there are issues that we need to address. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is committed to implementing the McMahon report. He spoke about it in this House last week or the week before. He is very passionate about the matter and the Senators should give him credit. I would be happy to have him come back to the House again.
Senator Feighan raised the false identification of people and the issue around fake news. It is important that people are afforded the right to have their name cleared and their good name upheld. The Senator has raised a very interesting point in respect of the particular issue in question. The Cathaoirleach has said not to name the person. The matter is a very serious one.
On Senator Murnane O'Connor's contribution, I very much welcome the decision of Merck Sharp & Dohme, MSD, to increase its foothold in Carlow. For a town of that size, 120 jobs is tremendous news and I commend all involved. The Senator could have come to the hustings in Carlow on Friday night and met the Tánaiste. She would have been very welcome.
That is why I was calling them by their first names instead of using "Minister" and "Tánaiste".
When is there going to be a hustings in Belfast? That is what I want to know.
Some of us have been in Belfast already canvassing, do not worry. We are the united Ireland party.
I would be happy------
I remind the Leader that the hustings of whatever party are outside the remit of this Chamber.
Unlike other parties that go into a closed room and come out with an appointed leader, we have a contest.
We have an Ard Fheis.
I know Fianna Fáil is looking at the same idea. The Labour Party, to be fair, had a similar type of exercise to ours.
Deputy Alan Kelly, yes?
I am sure the Members opposite who are spoiling for a row will see the benefit of having a real contest rather than a laying on of hands or an anointed one being chosen.
Who did Senator Buttimer compete against for the leadership of the Seanad? Who stood for the leadership of the Seanad?
I join Senator Warfield in expressing my disappointment at the inordinate delay in the implementation of the rights of same-sex couples under the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. I had two conversations this week, one with LINC in Cork and the other with the parent of a couple who want to adopt. The Senator's points are ones I have taken up with the Department.
I would be happy to raise the issue as a Commencement matter with the Senator or we could jointly go to see the Minister because I accept his point that the delay has been too long.
As the former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I share Senator Mac Lochlainn's views on Lyme disease. The Senator is probably aware that we had a number of hearings in the committee on the matter. He struck a chord in what he said in the sense that there is a reluctance to acknowledge the condition by those in the medical community and that must be addressed. Equally, education is an issue as well and more signage on lands is required on the part of the OPW, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and county councils. I very much share the Senator's views on the matter. Senator Colm Burke was on the committee as well and we have heard stories of young people who have been struck down - as Senator Mac Lochlainn indicated - at the peak of their athleticism and found themselves unable to walk from here to the door, get dressed or even to brush their teeth. That is most distressing. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House in regard to the matter.
The Senator also referred to Jadotville and 1916. Since our previous meeting of the Seanad, both Senator McFadden and I have spoken with the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, on the matter. I know Senators McFadden, Mac Lochlainn and Craughwell all personally want to see the matter resolved. This is not a political matter to divide us; it is about ensuring that we get the right result.
Could we get a meeting with the Minister?
Given what is happening at the moment the Minister might not be available. We have asked the Minister to do that and we will try to have a meeting as well. We will endeavour to have a meeting set up next week or the following week when we come back.
I will not accept Sinn Féin's amendment. If Senator Boyhan-----
What about the 1916 medals?
I am including both issues in that meeting.
I call on Senators Boyhan and Norris to accept my proposal given that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, will come to the House tomorrow.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 9 be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Senator David Norris proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the report of the special rapporteur on child protection be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I have been advised by Senator Boyhan, in whose name I proposed this amendment, that he is quite happy to wait until the Minister is available to the House tomorrow, so I am withdrawing the amendment on his behalf.
I will come back to the House with a time when the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is available. We are working on that.
We need a time. Did the Leader say it would be after 6 p.m.?