The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic Violence Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 2 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the audit of the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3 p.m. with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time to be shared, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 2.56 p.m.; No. 3, statements on tourism, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m. with 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 4.22 p.m.; No. 4, Private Members' business, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and if not previously concluded, to be adjourned after 90 minutes; No. 5, motion regarding an EU regulation on insolvency proceedings, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, without debate; No. 6, motion regarding an EU regulation on justice, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5, without debate; and No. 7, statements on the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.15 p.m., with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time to be shared, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 8.10 p.m.
Order of Business
For clarification, did the Leader say the Private Members' Bill is to be adjourned after 90 minutes?
It is normally two hours but the Leader is amending it to 90 minutes.
Yes, following a conversation with Senator Ruane.
I wish to raise the pending retail initial public offering of AIB. It is the view of the Fianna Fáil group that the Minister, Deputy Noonan, should press the EU for a relaxation of the fiscal rules to allow the proceeds from the sale of the stake in AIB to be used for capital investment.
Not a day goes by in this Chamber when one of us does not raise the issue of homelessness, substandard maternity and children's hospitals, poor rail and transport services and underinvestment in our schools. We believe the proceeds from the sale would be better used for investment purposes than debt reduction, given the needs of our citizens at this time and on the eve of Brexit. Our party spokesperson, Deputy Michael McGrath, has also written directly to the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, urging him to reform and review the fiscal rules in order to facilitate additional capital expenditure in member states and, in the case of Ireland in particular, to allow the use of the proceeds from the sale of AIB and future proceeds from NAMA for investment in capital developments such as housing, hospitals and schools.
Deputy McGrath highlighted the fact that capital expenditure diminished significantly during the economic crisis and we currently had a serious infrastructural deficit. He made the argument against a backdrop of historically low interest rates and the view from the EU that low interest rates will continue for some time. I call on the Minister for Finance to reconsider this matter and for a debate in this House on the sale of AIB before the matter is concluded.
I welcome the new traffic management measures introduced by Dublin City Council, albeit that they have been introduced in a haphazard fashion. There has been a devastating road traffic accident today on the Kimmage Road Lower, in which a vehicle overturned, and I hope that nobody has been hurt. We need to look at road safety more vigorously in this country and I call for a debate on the subject in this House.
The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed Second Stage in this House on 12 April. When I raised this a fortnight ago, the Leader promised that Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill would have been debated by tomorrow and I am disappointed that this will not now happen.
I have submitted amendments to the Minister for Justice and Equality to address the technical issues the Government flagged on Second Stage to ensure that all licensed premises would be allowed to open on Good Friday. My staff have spoken with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice and Equality and were informed that they have drawn up a list of amendments. We have no difficulty with this as it is in everyone's interest that the Bill does exactly what it is intended to do and ensures that every licensed premises is open on Good Friday, something upon which all parties in this House had agreed.
We have spoken with the Department again today and it appears that a draft memo of the Government amendments went to all relevant Departments last Friday, with a response expected in approximately five days.
I understand the draft memorandum then has to go to Cabinet for approval. Once again, I ask that the Leader firmly sets out when Committee Stage of this Bill will be scheduled in Government time, as promised.
Today, the chief executive of AIB has acknowledged the role played by taxpayers in the bailout of his bank. The sheer scale of the taxpayer bailout of €20 billion should warrant a more transparent approach to any potential sale of this State-owned bank. Any plan to sell part of this public asset should be clear in its reasoning. The plan to sell up to 25% of the shares has been announced with the Minister, Deputy Noonan, providing little or no rationale. This is a profitable bank from which the State received €250 million in dividends last year.
There is no reason AIB should not be kept as a State bank to invest in our economy and to operate in competition with the private banking sector. The only reasoning offered so far is that state banks are not successful. This is not true. There is no basis for this whatever. Some of the best performing banks in Europe, such as those in Germany, are state banks. Every bank in this State that collapsed was a private bank. In one of his final acts as Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan is not being honest with taxpayers. These are the people who bailed out AIB and ultimately own 99.9% in shares. It is no surprise that AIB was far more receptive to public pressure on issues such as the standard variable rates and the sales to vulture funds. With any proposed sale, we will lose accountability. Even when it was State owned, they had to be brought kicking and screaming before the finance committee to examine the variable rates. That process is ongoing. When it is privatised we will have no accountability whatsoever. There needs to be a full debate and clarity provided on this and I would welcome Deputy Noonan coming into this House to explain why he wants to sell it now and why he is not negotiating the fiscal rules in order to allow us to spend any dividends from AIB in capital funding. We need explanations because it is the people who suffered most, the SMEs, the mortgage holders and the rural branch users who will now be at the mercy of unaccountable private investors. This is a huge price to pay in order to cobble together a legacy for the Minister, Deputy Noonan. It is a bad deal. We are not in September 2008 where my colleagues here to my left had to huddle into a room.
Sinn Féin supported the bank guarantee.
We did not vote for the bank guarantee. Let us make this clear.
Yes it did. It is on the record.
We did not. I want to clear this up. On 17 October -----
I ask the Senator to take a second. Respect the Chair. The Leader has ample time to respond later and make his case. Do not interrupt the speaker. It is bad manners. I hate crossing the Leader. Senator Conway-Walsh, please conclude.
The Leader was notorious for his heckling when he was in the Dáil-----
Do not enrage the situation.
It may be his last day as Leader.
-----and he has continued doing that.
We are in a very different position now, in that we have the time to sort out a good deal with regard to AIB for the people. We are not huddled together in a room. Sinn Féin did not support the bank guarantee when it came back to the Dáil in October of that year, I want to make that clear. We have an opportunity now and I appeal to Deputy Noonan to come into the House and have a rational debate on this and provide the transparency and honesty that people need around this.
Yesterday, I was delighted to hear the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that the policy of banning asylum seekers from working was unconstitutional. This is a landmark decision with major implications for how we treat asylum seekers in this country. I have raised it here before and human rights organisations have been saying it for years but the system of direct provision is a disgrace. We have an obligation to treat people with basic dignity and respect and that includes the right to work. Who benefits from stopping talented, ambitious people from realising their potential and contributing to their communities? Who benefits from telling bright young children in education that they can go no further in their studies or employment? This particular case was brought by a Burmese man who had spent eight long years in direct provision without the right to work a single day in that period. Imagine what it must feel like to go that long without being able to seek employment to provide for oneself or contribute to the community like one's neighbours. He noted how this had led him to suffer from depression and to an almost complete loss of autonomy. We owe this man a huge debt of gratitude. While the State dragged its heels and refused to address this injustice, the perseverance of this man in pursuing this case has now forced the Government to act. Credit to him and to all those in direct provision who spent years fighting this ban. They have done a huge amount to improve the lives of asylum seekers in Ireland.
The onus is now on the Government to respond humanely. The court has adjourned the case for six months, which means that we in Leinster House have until just before Christmas to sort this out. I am concerned to read reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that the common travel area and Brexit negotiations may be used as an excuse to implement an overly restrictive right to work. We should not go down this route. We should use this ruling as an opportunity to look at our employment policies when it comes to asylum seekers and extend them generously. It is also important to note that at their hustings in Cork at the weekend, both would-be Fine Gael leaders expressed support for this idea. It time to put their money where their mouths are and I ask the Government to outline its plans on this issue as a matter of urgency.
I support Senator Black's comments and welcome the Supreme Court decision yesterday on the right to work. It is a hugely important decision for asylum seekers in Ireland and I very much welcome it.
I call on the Leader to amend the Order of Business. I do not often do this but it is a matter of some urgency. I am seeking an amendment to the Order of Business to take a Labour Party motion on delaying the sale of the State's stake in AIB. A text of this motion has been circulated to colleagues this morning. It is the same motion that passed in the Dáil, which was also a Labour Party motion.
It is not on the Order Paper so I am not sure that we can deal with it.
I am asking the Leader to amend the Order of Business that we might have a debate on the text of the motion. It has been circulated. I know it is not on the Order Paper but I am conscious that the decision-----
I think it can be circumvented that way.
I think I can circumvent it.
I bow to the Senator.
Given that the decision was made by Cabinet yesterday, flying in the face of the Dáil vote in support of the Labour Party motion on 18 May to delay the sale of AIB shares, and given that we will not sit for another two weeks, I will not have an opportunity to put this motion again. I am asking that the Leader take account of this. I know we have a busy day today but I am conscious that we have an extra half hour to spare given that the time allocated to Private Members' business has been reduced. On behalf of the Labour Party Senators, we would be happy to take the motion in the Minister's absence and vote on it in this House. It is a matter that is quite urgent.
Senator Conway-Walsh has spoken eloquently about the rationale for the motion, but briefly, in order that colleagues are aware, the motion simply calls on the Government to postpone the sale of AIB shares until we have sought and achieved a change to fiscal rules to permit greater levels of capital spending. It is somewhat ludicrous that the Minister for Finance has admitted that the proceeds of the sale of 25% of AIB will pay down just over 1% of our national debt. We in the Labour Party say that a far better use of the funds would be to put it towards capital investment, the investment that we all acknowledge is needed. Just this week, the future of health care report was published. Labour's Deputy Alan Kelly was on the committee and Labour has welcomed it, as have all parties. The report outlines an ambitious plan towards a single-tier health system but a key part of the plan is a €3 billion transition fund to provide for one-off system-changing measures. We say that fund would be a far better location for the proceeds of the sale of AIB. We need to delay the sale of our share in AIB to ensure that we can in fact put it towards investment in health or housing or public expenditure of the sort that is so desperately needed across the public service.
There was support across the Dáil for this motion and I ask colleagues across the House to support my proposed amendment to the Order of Business in order that we can take this urgent motion today.
For clarification, I take it that the Senator is proposing a debate with the Minister of Finance on the proposed sale of AIB shares be taken today?
Yes, I am proposing that although we would be happy to have the debate in the Minister's absence if his availability is a difficulty.
We will hear the Leader's response.
We wish to have a debate on the motion and a vote on the motion today.
As spokesperson on sport, I raise the farcical situation that has come to light in recent days in regard to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.
One could not make up what has happened and what is emerging. There are two different boards, each saying it is in charge. A team has been picked by a high performance director who has not been sanctioned by the committee. There are people not turning up at meetings with Sport Ireland and the Minister, which were arranged to try to resolve the situation. This did not start today or yesterday. When I was chairman of the committee on sport, we had the Irish Amateur Boxing Association in before us explaining why it lost one of the best coaches and high-performance people in the world. Is this now going to happen again? Boxers who had failed drug tests were allowed to travel to Rio de Janeiro. The coaches did not even know about it and were only informed as the draw was being made in Rio de Janeiro. It is simply not good enough. The boxers are the innocent people involved here. I understand that more than €700,000 has been allocated this year for the high-performance unit. We had a report and recommendations in respect of Rio. We were told they were going to implemented but that does not seem to have happened.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy O'Donovan, to come in here next week and explain exactly what is happening. There is a great contrast between this trouble and the joyous scenes in Skibbereen following the rowing. Anybody involved in sport would want to have one body with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet, working together and achieving success. In this case, however, we have a dysfunctional family that agrees on nothing, leading to a farcical situation which needs to be resolved once and for all.
There is bad news and good news today about the Cork-Limerick M20 route, with which the Leader and everybody else will be familiar. It is probably the most badly-needed piece of motorway in the whole country. Shock and anger is being expressed by councillors of all descriptions today at the paltry €1 million that has been granted. That sum might knock out another 100 m of road. The good news, however, is that the potential new Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has announced that it is going to be a priority of his, if and when he is Taoiseach. What is gas is that it was he who axed the project in 2011 when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. There is good and bad in that.
On a point of information, I was not here last week for the launch of the latest edition of Nealon's Guide. When is it proposed to produce our own Seanad general election report, which I am sure many Members, especially new Members, will be anxious to get their hands on?
I understand that it is currently being produced. That is probably not a matter for the Order of Business. We will keep the Senator posted.
The Leader will know that I frequently have a go at the Government when I feel it is important. Today, however, as the current Taoiseach exits office, I want to place on the record of the House the job he has done in respect of Brexit, along with the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy. I am just back from a COSAC plenary meeting in Malta at which we had all 27 countries sitting around tables. Mr. Michel Barnier gave a speech on Brexit and spoke about openness, transparency and various other things. As he drew his speech to a close, he addressed the special, unique position of Ireland. I have never been so encouraged as I was listening to him speak about the problems of Ireland. The second speaker, a Ms Hüber I believe, also raised the special, unique problems of Ireland at the end of her speech. Every speaker in the hall - there were 27 or 28 of them - acknowledged the unique problems Ireland has with its Border and trade with the UK. Clearly, our foreign offices in all 27 member states have worked extremely hard. We may not get the coverage here to which we are entitled; we are not aware of the amount of work that is being done as the media has ignored it. I wish to place on the record of the House my congratulations to the outgoing Taoiseach. I have given him the odd lash every now and then but today I congratulate him.
I cannot sit down without having a lash, and my topic is the Jadotville medal. We were promised some action and there is a matter on the Order Paper which I think my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn will address. Do we want every one of the Jadotville people to be dead before we make a decision on these medals? What the hell will it cost to strike a medal for each and every living member? What will it cost to give them some recognition------
The Leader responded to this matter yesterday. He made a commitment in the Senator's absence. It would be unfair for Senator Craughwell to comment further when he was not present yesterday. The Leader will probably reply in a minute.
I feel deeply aggrieved about the matter.
The Senator has stated his position very clearly. I am sure the Leader will respond.
I wish to raise the issue of paid parking in rural towns, which I have spoken about before. There is unfair competition when it comes to town centres. There are facilities on the outskirts of some towns with free parking and they are being given planning permission. If there is free parking outside the town centre, paid parking in the town centre should be scrapped because it is unfair competition. We have a new situation in my county of Meath whereby traffic wardens have been privatised since 1 February. They are writing tickets like they are going out of fashion, for profit. Is this going to happen in Kells, Trim and the rest of rural Ireland?
I blame Fine Gael.
The main role of a traffic warden is to keep traffic flowing. To be writing tickets for profit is totally against the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act 1975.
That is what privatisation does.
Are these tickets being written illegally? I want the Minister to come in here in order that we can find out what is going on in respect of paid parking being privatised. Are we going to close down town centres in rural Ireland? It is just not good enough. If it is happening in County Meath it is going to happen all over rural Ireland.
It has been happening for years in Dublin.
I want to get the attention of the Leader.
I always pay attention.
This is important. I appreciate that the Leader has tried to help with the issue of the Jadotville medals. I ask the Cathaoirleach to bear with me. I briefly raised the issue with the Minister of State in the canteen this morning. I asked when he would meet me and Senator Craughwell. He said he would come in to the Seanad at some point but is not going to meet us. He is not going to address the medals issue. He said that to me this morning. He said he has a different plan.
As the Leader knows, we have acted entirely in good faith. We drafted a motion supported by most Members of the House but have withheld it for months to avoid dividing the House. The Minister of State has refused to meet me and Senator Craughwell although we are supported by the majority of Senators in wishing to do something honourable for those men. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, to bring in the Minister of State. He should respect the majority of Members of this House and address the issue in an honourable way. We tried to be fair up until now and the Leader knows I have acted in good faith. It has all changed since I spoke to the Minister of State this morning, however. If he can give medals commemorating 1916 to all members of the Defence Forces, why can he not give medals to the heroes of Jadotville?
I want it sorted today once and for all. There must be respect for the majority of Members of this House. I want a statement from the Minister of State with responsibility for defence and for him to do the honourable thing. We have acted honourably up until now. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, for the Minister to come to the House today to make an urgent statement on what he is doing.
The proposed amendment is noted. The Senator will have to get someone to second it later.
I formally second my colleague's amendment regarding the sale of AIB shares. It would be a nonsense if this House did not express an opinion on this issue. This will probably be the biggest fiscal decision made in the past two years. We have young children in the Gallery today. We constantly hear of the problems and the need for investment in schools. We constantly hear of the need for investment in our health service, in our roads and in public transport. On many occasions Senators in this House have called for investment in the motorway connecting Limerick and Cork. I, myself, have been seeking investment in public transport, specifically in respect of Dublin. There is a proposal for Dublin public transport that would require an investment of €1 billion in the near future.
If the Minister cannot come to the House, I think we should have an open debate in the House and the motion should be voted on. Over a week ago, I put the Leader on notice that we would be tabling such a motion, and he asked us to delay it until the Minister was in the House. I listened to the Minister's contribution and I felt there was no justification for the sale at this stage. In fact, we will receive approximately €250 million in dividends from AIB which will come back to the taxpayer in 2017. There has been no cost-benefit analysis on future profits that could be made through dividends from the State's shares in AIB.
Under the current rules, if this sale goes ahead, that €3 billion will be used to pay down debt. That would be 1% - big deal. If we delay, we have an opportunity to make the sale in autumn and to make sure that money can be invested in much-needed infrastructure projects. The Labour Party has already started discussions with our sister parties across Europe with regard to changes in the fiscal rules and has received great support in the matter. The recently elected President of France has also indicated a need to change the fiscal rules in this area. There is no benefit in proceeding with the sale this month. If we delay until the autumn, there is an opportunity for an additional €3 billion to be invested in much-needed infrastructure throughout this country. I strongly believe we need to debate this in this House today.
I welcome the doubling of funding, from €650,000 to €1.3 million, that is being provided to aid the crackdown on illegal dumping throughout the country, which is wrecking many lovely, beautiful spots in various counties. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Naughten, acted quickly in doubling this funding because I know the Department is swamped with requests from local authorities and community groups in this regard. Some time ago I suggested that these people be properly named and shamed. If that requires amending legislation, so be it. At a minimum, these people's names should be posted on the websites of the council and the Department. That would act as a further deterrent. I know this funding is a preventative measure, but it is an important starting point to be followed, please God, by further robust and strong-handed measures to tackle this illegal scourge. Perhaps in time the Leader would consider bringing the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to the House to update us on how his proposals are working.
I wish to raise only one issue, which relates to Coillte. We know that Coillte has 390,000 ha under forestry in this State. That is an enormous natural and national asset and resource, and it is very important. There has been great discussion on the possibility of elements of Coillte being privatised or sold off. We know that there are a further 90,000 ha dedicated to biodiversity, or non-core forestry activity, which is a vast amount of land. As I say, this is a very rich natural and national resource and asset. It is important to have the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, in the House at some stage in the future to have a debate about forestry - where it is going, what plans there are for it and the greater vision for forestry for the next two to three years. He is very committed to the forestry sector. He lives in Wicklow himself.
Will the Leader consider the possibility of extending the time for the Minister, currently scheduled from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., by an extra 15 minutes? One does not need to be a mathematician to know that there are a number of people in the House who will speak. If one person from every group speaks, including one or two of the other Independent Members who are not aligned to any group, 60 minutes will not be sufficient for all speakers and a response from the Minister. It is physically not possible to have one person from each group and the two non-aligned Independent Members speak for eight minutes and have the Minister respond, all within 60 minutes as the Leader is proposing. Could we even get 15 minutes, if possible? We will clearly not have eight minutes and we will be talking in a jam jar. The Minister will not have an opportunity to respond. That really is not satisfactory. If it is at all possible, can we have an extension, possibly by 15 minutes, just to facilitate meaningful debate?
I will let the Leader deal with that when he responds.
First, I second the amendment by my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn. It is very important. I believe everyone would accept that we have acted very honourably in respect of this issue. We would hope for that to be recognised. I was not planning to speak, but I wish to offer my words of support to my colleagues in the Labour Party with regard to their amendment today. Regardless of our views, and clearly this is an ideological issue, it would be disgraceful if this Chamber was not allowed to debate the issue of the sale of AIB before it goes ahead. It is the biggest decision that will be taken this year. We all have views on it. For us on the left, it is clearly the wrong move. I find it bizarre that those on the right would adopt this Thatcherite mentality of selling off an asset which we had to bail out. It makes no sense financially. To be frank, not a day goes by that we do not hear people on every side of the Chamber demanding extra resources for key projects.
The Senator is good at that himself.
Here are billions that are available and yet it looks as if the Fine Gael Party is intent, with its rightward drift, on ensuring none of those projects will be fulfilled. We hear the issue of the M20 motorway quite rightly being raised again today. I would hope that, in the interests of recognising that this House has a role to play in debating this, we would have a debate on it. Frankly, it would be disgraceful if this did not happen today.
I do not need to speak. I was just going to second the Sinn Féin amendment on Jadotville, but that has already been done. I should say that I was going to do so as a native of the Belgian Congo.
I thank the Senator for his brevity.
I dtosach, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an gcinneadh a rinne an Chúirt Uachtarach inné maidir le cearta oibre. I welcome the unanimous decision taken yesterday by the Supreme Court on the right to work of people seeking asylum. We need to get real about the issue of asylum. We also need to look at the right of people in that system to education. We certainly need to look at scrapping direct provision and I want to see us debate that again as soon as possible.
I wish to raise a very distressing issue this morning. It is in respect of lives being put at risk in rural areas due to a lack of ambulance services. It is not I who is saying this. A local GP in Connemara has highlighted this issue due to frustration. Last Saturday night, he was called at 11.30 p.m. A call was placed for an emergency, blue light ambulance. This was for a potentially life-threatening acute illness in a 60 year old man. If an ambulance had been based in Carraroe, it would have been with the gentleman in approximately ten minutes. Unfortunately, the doctor says, as is frequently the case, no ambulance staff were available in Carraroe and the estimated arrival time for the ambulance was 57 minutes. He goes on to outline the dangers of that and the fact he felt afraid that the patient would die at the side of the road. Thankfully, he did not. On another occasion last year, however, the response time was 120 minutes and, on a different occasion, an ambulance had to come from Roscommon to Carraroe, which is totally and utterly unacceptable.
I have raised these issues in this House on an ongoing basis since I was elected in 2011. I have got the deaf ear from every Minister who has ever come in to discuss them. I know that people in Leenane in north Connemara have raised this issue as well. They have had meetings with the Minister, Deputy Harris. The Minister gave them a lovely hearing and was very concerned with their issues but fobbed them off again to the National Ambulance Service. The Ministers, Deputy Harris, Deputy Varadkar and, the former Deputy, now Senator Reilly, all washed their hands of this issue. When is the Government going to get real and realise that this is a life and death issue? In 2015, for example, one of our proposals was to put €6 million from the budget aside to make eight more ambulances and crews available throughout the country. That was the same year in which €6.5 million was spent on setting up the administrative system for the water conservation grant, which never happened.
The Government has certain priorities in the way it is spending money, but it is certainly not spending it on rural ambulance services, which it needs to do. This is a life and death issue. There has been an outcry among GPs on this and other issues. We need a debate about rural ambulance services and health services in rural areas.
Tá an t-am istigh.
I ask the Leader to implore the Minister, Deputy Harris, to do something about the issue and to make the crews available because if there is a fatality, it will lie at his door and the door of the Government and I do not want to see that happen.
I concur with the remarks of Senator O'Mahony about the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. For many years and in previous Olympics the performance and achievements of our boxing team were the envy of many other sports. Boxers were the standard bearers of Irish sport. It is 100% proof of bad corporate governance to hear yesterday on the radio and read today in the newspapers where they are at currently. They did not become bad boxers overnight or over the past four years. The state of the sport and its organisation at the moment is totally due to poor corporate governance and bad leadership. When the Minister facilitated a meeting yesterday to try to find a resolution, it was most disrespectful to him that one member of the board did not have the decency to turn up to the meeting. Amateur boxing is a big beneficiary of the sports grants that are available in this country and, at the end of the day, that is taxpayers' money. The Minister should pull rank and step in to take control of the association. That is his prerogative and duty, and especially given the way he was treated yesterday, I would have no problem with such an approach by the Minister, with him knocking heads together and removing some people if he has to. The situation is most unfortunate because we all took great pleasure from the sport. It was easy after we had victories to praise those involved to the high heavens, in council chambers or in this House, but they have let us down, and it is not the boxers who are at fault. The message that should go out from here is that the problem has nothing to do with the boxers but relates to corporate governance. The issue is mismanagement by the people at the top. The matter must be addressed immediately.
I have been contacted a number of times in recent weeks about the worsening phone coverage in County Carlow that does not seem to be specific to any one provider. Mobile signals seem to have deteriorated, which is impacting not only on the service to residential customers but also on businesses, especially in rural areas. The mobile phone network is essential for businesses seeking to stay in contact with customers and suppliers. Coverage is more important now than ever before as more and more businesses rely on the mobile phone network for email access. People's reliance on smartphones is set to increase in the coming years, so it is important the necessary investment in the mobile infrastructure takes place to support this growth.
We need a state-of-the-art mobile and broadband coverage to support jobs and growth, and the mobile phone operators have been focusing on large urban areas. That is the reason I raise this issue today. Carlow town is getting a new broadband system, but the improvements are confined to urban areas and are not available in rural areas. That is having a massive impact on rural areas. I read in the newspaper today that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has a catch-up strategy for those who are left behind. It outlines how he will ensure we have post offices, a GP service available in rural areas and the provision of broadband. Will he also include phone coverage? Reference is also made in the strategy to the provision of money for roads. This is a whole new system. We need to look at phone coverage and broadband in rural areas because they are affected. The situation is very bad in County Carlow and surrounding areas. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to address the issue?
Today the representative group, Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, is in Buswells Hotel meeting Oireachtas Members. I encourage Members to meet the NHI if at all possible. The group has raised a number of concerns, in particular the change in the mechanism for the calculation of commercial rates. I spoke to one nursing home provider who told me the home's commercial rates have increased from €18,000 per annum to €54,000. That is a huge added cost to the budget of the nursing home and provision will have to be made for it. The cost will have to be spread down the line. The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, was to come back by 1 June with a review of nursing home rates and the rates being paid to private nursing homes, but my understanding is that the review will not now be published on time. I am concerned about that because nursing homes took a substantial reduction in recent years in what they were being paid for caring for elderly people. More than 23,500 people are covered under the fair deal scheme. Nursing homes provide a service and, on the one hand, the State and local authorities are imposing a higher charge on them - the rates have doubled in many nursing homes - but, on the other hand, the NTPF has not indicated when it intends to publish its review of rates. It is important to deal with the issue as nursing homes have increasing costs. Nursing homes are also faced with increased insurance costs, as the rates have doubled and trebled in a lot of places. Perhaps the Leader could arrange for the Minister to deal with this issue. I understand the Minister is also carrying out a review of the fair deal scheme. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, to the House to address this issue and also to discuss long-term planning for the provision of nursing home care.
I join other colleagues, including my party leader in the House, Senator Ardagh, in supporting the call for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come to the House today to discuss the impending sale of 25% of AIB. It is important that whatever money is raised from the sale is put back into the infrastructure of this country and not sent to the bankers of Europe.
I also support the amendment proposed by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn on Jadotville. I have no reason to doubt what he said but if it is correct it is disturbing. The motion calling for recognition for the survivors of the Jadotville massacre was signed by almost everyone in this House bar the Government Members. Medals should be presented to the survivors. The situation is disturbing. I have no doubt the Leader has been attempting to facilitate a meeting with the Minister of State that was referred to by Senator Mac Lochlainn-----
That is correct.
-----but we had the Minister of State in the House last week and we had a very good debate with him. However, he never mentioned the motion which I believe has been on the Order Paper for approximately six months. I understand it was intended to take it without debate but, first, it should be put on the Order Paper as it stands and it should be debated. Two hours should be allocated for such a debate. The Minister of State with responsibility for Defence should come to the House and clarify his intentions in relation to the medals.
I thank the 17 Senators who spoke. Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Bacik, Humphreys and Wilson raised the sale of shares in AIB. The Minister has outlined that it is his intention, on behalf of the Government, to sell some of the shares in AIB. It is extraordinary to listen to some of the Members of the House today, some of whom have been in government, some of whom were in the Government that wrecked the country and the banking sector, and some of whom are on a motorbike to nowhere. We campaigned as a country on the European fiscal compact treaty in 2012, which the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil supported.
The austerity treaty.
The treaty committed us to certain terms and conditions. As Members know full well, the benefits of the sale of AIB shares can only be used for debt write-down. In an ideal world we would all love to take the money from the sale of the shares in AIB and spend it on our pet projects. I assure the young people in the Gallery who are present today that the Government, on behalf of the people, will not be a party that wrecks the country. We will be responsible, stand up for the sovereignty of our country and ensure we never go back to the days when the Members opposite were in government and they destroyed the country.
Standing up for the sovereignty of the country by giving money to Europe.
It is easy to be for nothing and against everything in the Chamber every day, Senator Norris.
I was against the fiscal treaty. I spoke against it in the House and then voted against it.
The reality, as Members will know,-----
Le do thoil,-----
The irony of it all is that the hypocrisy of Sinn Féin knows no bounds. It was in Greece with its flags and posters standing side by side with Syriza and Mr. Varoufakis, saying that they would not surrender.
And the citizens of Greece.
And what happened? Mr. Varoufakis has gone off on his bike. Greece and the poor unfortunate people-----
He was dismissed.
The poor mistreated-----
The poor people of Greece-----
Mr. Varoufakis was dismissed and he was 100% right about Europe.
-----today have an unemployment rate of 23%-----
That is because of Europe-----
-----when our country has a rate of approximately 6.4%.
-----and the bureaucrats in Europe.
Our country is on the road to recovery-----
-----because of the Fine Gael-Labour Government and the present Government. I, on behalf of the Government side in this House, will not allow Sinn Féin to wreck our country further.
Will the Government do that by itself?
It is early for interruptions. Allow the Leader to respond and Senators will have a chance at some other time to-----
After all, it might be his last performance.
That is what I was going to say.
We hope that he will remain on as caretaker.
I will take my chances, Senator Humphreys.
To be honest with the Leader, this may be everyone's last performance if Leo calls an election.
As Senators know full well, including Senator Humphreys, who was a Minister of State, the sale of AIB was going to happen. As to the brave commentary of Senators Gavan and Conway-Walsh regarding the nationalised or non-private banks, they should consider their history and records.
Will the Minister come to the House and answer the questions?
The Senators are doing people a disservice by claiming there is no accountability or regulation of the banks. There is now. The previous and current Governments have ensured there will be no more light-touch regulation.
There is not an awful lot of regulation of the banks.
Who is in prison?
The banks were goosed out of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The good news-----
They can do what they bloody well like.
As Members know full well-----
They have been charging illegal interest. They have putting people out of their homes who could not pay that illegal interest.
Senator Norris, allow the Leader to continue.
That is what the banks are at.
The "Bankers' Party".
Allow the Leader to continue. We have a-----
He is being provocative on the subject of the banks.
It is about time that people got real about certain things in the House. Our responsibility as Members means that we must be objective in how we run the country and govern. On behalf of the young people in the Gallery, we must ensure that we have a country to hand back to them, one in which they have a future and can learn from us and our mistakes. This and the previous Government have given our people hope, so I will never apologise for what they have done.
The sale of AIB was always going to happen.
The bankers and vulture funds can do what they like.
The bank has returned to profitability and the Minister, with the Government, has made the decision to sell. The good news is that the Minister will come to the House at 6 p.m., so the Senators can debate the matter. I hope that Members will not play party politics and that there is a proper debate. The voodoo economics of Sinn Féin must be scrutinised for everyone to see.
And the leprechaun economics of Fine Gael. That is not me saying it.
And the Seanie economics.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of traffic management in Dublin.
It is €250 million for the vulture funds.
Let us move on. There will be a debate at 6 p.m. The Senators should acknowledge that the Leader has consented to a debate and move on, please.
The Sinn Féin Members opposite should consider their colleagues in government in the North.
That will be a matter for this evening's debate.
Some day, and I hope that I will not be here for it, the Sinn Féin Members will play a different tune when they are in government.
We certainly will.
We will wait for that election.
I look forward to them waving the flag.
They have always known how to deal with the banks.
That is a different matter.
I certainly will not rise to that bait, but Senator Norris is right.
Senator Lawless raised the important matter of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill. As he knows well, I am not slowing the matter down or obfuscating on it. There has been an ongoing liaison between my office, Senators Lawless and McDowell and the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality regarding the Bill. Work on it is proceeding. We have asked for it to be expedited. On behalf of the Government side of the House, I am not stalling that work or refusing the Bill to be laid before the House. I have asked the Department to liaise with Senator Lawless personally. I can do no more other than ensure that this side does not prevent the Bill's continuation.
Senators Black and Gavan referred to yesterday's Supreme Court decision. I welcome the decision and look forward to the Government's response. It has six months to do so. Direct provision was discussed on yesterday's Order of Business. The Government will ensure that there is a positive response. We must welcome yesterday's decision. As I said on television last night, I have friends in the direct provision centre in Cork. They are members of my political party and make a valuable contribution. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned, these people want to be able to contribute to society through their work. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have been working towards that. We will debate the matter again.
Senators O'Mahony and Paul Daly raised the issue of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. It is unacceptable that we are once again seeing turmoil, upset and internal fighting within the IABA. As Senator Paul Daly rightly said, the boxers were the envy of everyone thanks to their performances. It is disappointing. Senator O'Mahony is a former Chairman of the sports and tourism committee. In his personal capacity as a manager and coach of high-performance athletes, he is right to question what is happening.
We celebrated at the weekend. In the Cathaoirleach's native west Cork, the O'Donovan brothers, Mr. Shane O'Driscoll, Mr. Mark O'Donovan and Ms Denise Walsh won medals while representing Ireland in rowing. There was pride, unity and strength. That the boxing world is in turmoil again is disappointing and frustrating. When someone of the calibre of Mr. Bernard Dunne is being undermined, it poses the question of why. What is it all about? When people wear the green jersey and represent their country in sport, in this instance in the ring, it is about winning and representing our country with pride.
There is a duty on those who are charged with running the IABA to show unity and ensure that boxers receive the most advantageous, high-performance and quality training that they can get. Mr. Dunne should be empowered in his role, not disempowered. That Mr. John Treacy and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, were treated disrespectfully poses the question of why. I appeal to everyone involved that they sit down, thrash this out and come out of the room united so that our boxers, who are of the highest quality, as the Senators said, are able to win for all of us.
I believe that Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to the M20 but I missed a part of what he said. He will be glad to hear that whether leader is Deputy Varadkar or Deputy Coveney, the M20 Cork-Limerick road will be a priority. As every Senator from the south knows, that road needs to be upgraded as a priority.
I will pass on Senator Craughwell's message of goodwill to the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy. He is a fine Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs.
Senators Craughwell, Mac Lochlainn and Wilson raised the matter of the Jadotville medals. My next point will be made with sincerity. With Senator McFadden, I have spoken to the Minister of State. I have made the case to him. I will not have a political row in the Chamber but my understanding is that the Minister of State has a different view of his meeting with Senator Mac Lochlainn in the canteen this morning. In saying that, I have given a commitment. By text, the Minister of State gave me a commitment after our meeting. The Defence Forces are conducting an archival review, which will be of assistance in forming a decision. The Minister of State is willing to meet. Rather than divide the House on a matter that, on this side, Senator McFadden and I have pursued strongly, I guarantee Senator Mac Lochlainn that we will meet the Minister of State-----
He is not here today. He has gone to an event.
Will he meet us first thing in the morning?
I will speak to the Senator after the Order of Business.
No. I need an assurance. This is-----
A Chathaoirligh, may I respond briefly?
The Senator will not negotiate with me here.
Then there will be a vote and the House will divide. We have been messed around for months now.
All I can say is-----
Senator Mac Lochlainn, there is a way of dealing with issues.
How can the Minister of State meet the Government Senators but not meet Senator Craughwell and me?
Allow the Leader to respond.
For months, we have looked for a meeting-----
All I can say-----
-----just to know where we stand.
I will put a question to the Senator shortly and he will have the means of dealing with this matter. Allow the Leader to continue.
As for my bona fides in this regard, I will revert to the Minister of State after the Order of Business.
I have no problem with the Leader but the Minister of State has treated us with utter contempt for months. He showed me utter contempt in the canteen this morning. I need to meet him today or first thing in the morning with Senator Craughwell.
The Senator has made his point. The Leader to continue.
If we can have that assurance now, we will not divide the House.
I will revert to the Senator before the close of business today.
I want an assurance now.
I cannot give the Senator an answer because I have to go back and talk-----
I propose that proceedings be suspended for five minutes-----
No, I am not going to do that.
------to give the Minister of State an opportunity to say when he can meet us-----
Senator Mac Lochlainn-----
-----and clarify the situation.
The Senator has a choice. Sometimes there are difficult decisions to make. If the Senator is unhappy with the Leader's response on behalf of the Government, he can call a vote.
That is fair enough.
It is a matter for the Senator.
I will endeavour to have the meeting with the Minister of State either this evening or tomorrow. I know he is not available this afternoon. I may not be here tomorrow for that meeting - I would like to be - which is why I am not negotiating with Senator Mac Lochlainn. He is not Leader of the House yet. Some day, he may be. There is a way of doing business and Senator Mac Lochlainn should not be doing business in the House in the manner in which he is. He will not bully me. I am prepared to have-----
For how many months have I been raising this issue? How many times have I raised it? What does it take to meet a Minister of State for 15 minutes-----
Senator Mac Lochlainn-----
-----just to clarify what he is going to do? How more fair could I be?
Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat.
How many times have I said to the Leader that I would withhold the relevant motion, which has been------
Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat and respect the Chair.
-----agreed by the majority of Members of this House? I have acted in good faith but I have been treated with utter contempt. I should not be told that I am bullying anybody. I have been treated with utter contempt, as has Senator Craughwell.
The Leader to reply.
What has happened this morning is absolutely disgraceful.
We should move on if the Senator cannot accept the assurance-----
The Leader has acted in good faith but the Minister of State has treated us with utter contempt.
Senator Mac Lochlainn has made his point very strongly.
After the Order of Business, I will endeavour to go to the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, to seek a meeting. I cannot answer for him in respect of tomorrow or later today. I cannot say whether he will have room in his diary. I will not be available tomorrow morning because of diary commitments. I will endeavour to organise the meeting for whatever time the Minister of State is available. I will not make a commitment I cannot honour. I have always acted in good faith on this matter, as has Senator McFadden. We have never resiled from wanting unity on the issue. It ill behoves us all to have this type of debate in the Chamber.
What the hell does the Cathaoirleach expect me to do? What does he expect me to do?
The Senator has made his case.
For months and months-----
Senator Butler raised the issue of pay parking-----
We have held this motion back for six months.
Senator Mac Lochlainn------
Hang on. I should not be told that it ill behoves us to debate the issue in this way. We have held the motion back for six months.
Senator Mac Lochlainn should resume his seat.
Six months. This morning I was told that there has been no progress. Nothing.
Senator Mac Lochlainn should respect the Chair and resume his seat. He has a way of dealing with the issue if he is not satisfied
Senator Butler raised the issues of pay parking and privatisation. I agree with him in that regard and am happy to have the Minister come to the House.
Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of illegal dumping. All Members welcome the provision of extra funding to combat this and agree with the Senator that there should be a name-and-shame campaign in that regard.
Senator Boyhan raised the very important issue of Coillte. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House to address that issue. The previous Oireachtas discussed and dealt with the issue of the sale of Coillte.
In regard to Senator Ó Clochartaigh's point concerning the ambulance service in Connemara and other rural areas, there has as he knows, been investment in many different types of ambulances for rural and many other areas. I would be happy to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House to discuss the matter.
As I am often in Senator Murnane O'Connor's home town of Carlow, I share her concern regarding the issue she has raised. She is absolutely correct to voice frustration at the very poor mobile coverage, not just in Carlow town but also on its periphery. It straddles the Laois-Carlow-Rathvilly area but the coverage is appalling. The Carlow to Abbeyleix road is a black spot for communication coverage. I will have the Minister come to the House to address that issue.
If I can make one point-----
Can the Senator please not interrupt?
I want to compliment the Leader on his action this morning. Can I just compliment-----
This is not a council chamber. The Senator will please resume her seat.
The Leader had a great time this morning supporting World MS Day.
The Senator will resume her seat.
Today is World MS Day. Well done to the Leader.
The Senator's behaviour is very disrespectful.
The Leader had a great morning.
Senators cannot be allowed to interrupt in order to thank or contradict the Leader.
Today is World MS Day.
There is a very busy schedule today. I know some Senators would like me to suspend the House for 15 minutes but that would defeat the purpose. The House is sitting until 8.30 p.m. The Leader should be allowed to conclude.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of Nursing Homes Ireland. To be fair, he has been a very strong voice in this House for nursing homes. In terms of the issue of the commercial rate, as I have said previously to the possible future Minister, Senator Murnane O'Connor, it is an independent process. The issue raised by Senator Colm Burke in terms of the imminent National Treatment Purchase Fund report is one about which we should all be vigilant. It is an important issue.
I missed the point raised by Senator Gavan on the Order of Business.
My point related to supporting our colleagues in terms of the AIB motion. That is fine. Apologies.
Gabh mo leithscéal. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is available to come to the House at approximately 6 p.m. We have had a robust debate but I want the same result as Senator Mac Lochlainn in regard to Jadotville. Rather than divide the House, I propose to revert to the Senator because I am not aware of the Minister of State's schedule for tomorrow. I have requested that he meet us and rather than divide the House-----
I thank the Leader. The Leader has accepted amendment No. 1 proposed by Senator Bacik. Will he come back to the House with a proposed schedule and details?
I will. I hope the Minister will be available at approximately 6 p.m. but I will confirm that.
Senator Bacik has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Finance on the proposed sale of AIB shares be taken today." This amendment has been accepted in principle and the Leader will revert to the House with the details. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Leader for that. Can he clarify that the Minister will attend the House to debate the motion at approximately 6 p.m.?
I will revert to the House with the times.
The amendment is agreed subject to details to be confirmed.
Senator Mac Lochlainn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, on the award of medals to veterans of the siege of Jadotville be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I know the Leader is not available tomorrow morning. However, Senator Craughwell and I have repeatedly sought a meeting with the Minister of State and we wish to have that meeting. If the Leader can undertake to arrange that meeting for any time this evening-----
The Leader is currently in an impossible situation.
I appreciate that. I will not divide the House but I wanted to make that point clear.
For the information of Members, the staff of my office have liaised with the Minister of State's office to organise the meeting. To be fair to Senator McFadden and I, we have sought that meeting and spoken to the Minister of State about it-----
There is a different version to that told by the Senator.
I remind the Leader that we were promised a meeting after Easter. He knows we were promised that meeting.
The Senator has made his point.
I am going to take a leap of faith and accept that-----
I will put the question if he does not sit down.
-----on the basis of the assurance given by the Leader, the meeting will take place by tomorrow morning.
Can the Leader provide an assurance that the meeting will take place within the next 24 hours?
I will revert to the Minister of State's office to request that he meet Senators Mac Lochlainn, Wilson, McFadden and Craughwell and myself.
Within the next 24 hours.
I will ask for it to be held in the next 24 hours but I cannot give a commitment that it will be. I cannot govern the Minister of State's diary but I will endeavour to have-----
There has been enough debate on the issue. Is the amendment being pressed?
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Daly, Paul.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.