The Order of Business is No. 1, the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2. the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Bill 2016, changed from the Prohibition of the Exploration and Extraction of Onshore Petroleum Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, Private Members' business, the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours and; No. 4, Private Members' business, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Second Stage to be taken at 7 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Today, I wish to raise two short issues. First, it is with great regret that I rise again today to raise the issue of the Garda Commissioner. We have learned that the irregularities in Templemore are much more severe than we originally thought. We learned yesterday that the Garda Commissioner has confirmed there is reasonable cause to suspect fraud has been committed regarding Garda bank accounts connected with the college. What is most alarming is that there is a genuine concern amid the revelations that senior Garda officers are involved in the alleged fraud. GSOC will investigate the matter at great cost to the State, as it will have to engage forensic accountants.
We understand due process must be afforded to individuals. However, as was pointed out yesterday, the timing of the investigation being handed over to GSOC is suspect, and allowed the Commissioner to hide behind a shield when it came to answering relevant and simple questions tabled by my colleague, Deputy Marc MacSharry. There are also more questions raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, about potential irregularities which he felt should have been notified to him sooner. It seems that certain members of the Garda are living by their own laws and they are in their own little fiefdoms showing total disregard for the rule of law that they are duty-bound to enforce and to follow themselves. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to address this matter.
The second issue I wish to raise a related one. My colleagues in Sinn Féin might be able to explain the comments made by their deputy leader yesterday asking the Commissioner what type of clout she felt she held as a woman. I cannot understand that question. It was absolutely and completely inappropriate and they might be able to shed more light on it.
It is not appropriate to ask another party or party leader about what happened in the other House. Senator Ardagh might find another way to address the matter.
My apologies. I extend the sympathies of the Fianna Fáil Party to Bernadette, the wife of Mr. Thomas Power, who died during the week in an ambulance on his way to Cork University Hospital. Mr. Power was only 40. He was due to be a first-time father and he passed away, as we know, because there was no specialist cardiac facilities in Waterford. I wish to amend the Order of Business to call on the Minister for Health to attend the House today to address this matter.
I also wish to put on the record my disappointment that yesterday the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, nominated only three women out of 19 Ministers of State. It is pretty outrageous that in the 21st century he seems to have absolute disregard for women.
I rise to address one issue here today. First, I congratulate all the Ministers of State who were appointed yesterday. In particular, I congratulate Deputy John Paul Phelan who has been appointed Minister of State with responsibility for local government. He has been specifically delegated to deal with local government. That is important and I acknowledge-----
Local government and reform. If I am allowed finish I will get to the reform, which Senator Coghlan will be particularly interested in. That is important. I am delighted that Senator Coghlan should remind me of the reform element of the Minister of State's brief. What am I going to say?
I would not like Senator Boyhan to forget.
Senator Coghlan should please not interrupt.
Senator Coghlan will certainly remind people. I would appreciate if the Leader could organise for the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to come to the House to discuss local government, and in particular greater devolved powers and subsidiarity to local government, to empower it as it represents local communities and local citizens to make decisions in local communities.
Last year we had a very interesting engagement with the previous Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, on the work, conditions of employment, remuneration and support of local councillors. There is no maternity leave or sick leave for local councillors. Would one believe that? The area is crying out for reform and it is an issue on which we should have a discussion. We hear much debate about remuneration. I wish to put on the record here again that county councillors in this country receive €16,500 before tax for what is a seven-day per week job.
I do not want to rehash all this now but I ask the Leader to organise for the new Minister of State with responsibility for local government and reform to come in here and engage with us, which I know he will, and I have high hopes for him, so that we can discuss this with him and come up with some real, practical suggestions for local government reform and mechanisms for greater support of councillors across the 31 local councils.
I want to address the issue covered in the all-day session of the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday and I want the new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House to debate this important issue. It is now a regular occurrence to see the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána appearing before the committees of the Oireachtas, which in itself is a scandal. While I welcome the fact that the head of the police force is available to Members of the Parliament seeking answers on behalf of citizens, those answers have to be forthcoming. Most of the reports in the media this morning about yesterday's hearings stated that there was an increase in the use of management speak and evasive language in response to very direct questions. A colleague of mine went as far as to describe Commissioner O'Sullivan as being a "hostile witness". Anyone looking at the interactions yesterday could only come to that conclusion.
This morning it was commented that up to five years ago a Garda Commissioner's account would be accepted without question. I suppose it is good that people are starting to question these things. They were never questioned and certainly were never questioned under Fianna Fáil. However, it now seems to take hours of committees' time to get answers to the most basic questions. The Comptroller and Auditor General should have been told of the financial irregularities as soon as the Commissioner had suspicions of the wrongdoings in July 2015. Instead she waited more than a year. She is the Accounting Officer for An Garda Síochána and she failed to report financial irregularities. The Commissioner should have admitted that error yesterday. Instead the issue remains unresolved due to her evasive answer in which she described her decision not to inform the Comptroller and Auditor General as reflecting her mindset at the time. Come on. Some of the language being used by the Commissioner is absolutely an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country.
We are facing into the start of the public hearings of the Charleton inquiry shortly. The public and politicians have lost confidence in Commissioner O'Sullivan already. More revelations and contradictions in evidence can only lead to what most people accept as the inevitable, namely, the Commissioner needs to go. The new Taoiseach now has an opportunity to sort out this mess by dismissing the Commissioner so that we can get to the truth of this matter. It cannot be likened to other situations. We have been calling for this for months because we knew how it was going to pan out. How many more days will we wait? How many more sessions, where the menu of the day is fudge, will we wait? To every direct question that is asked of the Minister, we get a fudge of answers. This is an absolute nonsense that must stop and the only way it can stop is for the Commissioner to go at this point.
I wish to raise a good story this morning. Last Friday evening, for one reason or another, a lady who is deaf made a wrong calculation and missed her bus from Parnell Place bus station in Cork to Dublin. The staff and someone who works closely with me came across the situation. The lady was quite distressed but the staff and the Bus Éireann duty inspector behaved in a wonderful and person-centred way. They were not able to accommodate her on another bus that evening but they spoke to their colleagues in Iarnród Éireann and organised for her to be brought to Kent Station just in time for the train leaving for Dublin. Why am I telling that story? I am telling it because it is an example of people getting on with their public sector work and duty in a person-centred manner. They understood that the woman was distressed and that there were issues around her deafness and, between the two public transport services, did the decent thing and made it happen for her.
There is a bigger story in this and another way of telling it. We can say that people did the decent thing and what anyone should do. The fancy language for that is about cultural change. One of the things that needs to happen in terms of the UN convention and public services generally is that this mindset needs to operate all of the time across our Departments and public bodies. Even as a Tipperary man, I am very happy to be thankful for the good grace of the people in Cork and for what they did. It is good to underline it in terms of policy. People who think about policy and planning services need to think about people who have differences or different disabilities.
I welcome all of the good news stories. It is understandable if people, given their position in opposition, want to play them as bad news stories. We totally understand.
I agree with much of what my colleague opposite, Senator Boyhan, said about the enlightened appointment of Deputy John Paul Phelan as Minister of State with responsibility for local government and reform. I agree that the Leader, in early course and when it is convenient, might arrange to have him in here for a debate with us on all of the issues and many questions that arise regarding local government. We have some crazy situations, as the Cathaoirleach well knows, in the deep south west. Having electoral areas covering three peninsulas, as in one case, and nine-seat and ten-seat areas is madness. People cannot be expected to cover that area. I accept that these councillors receive a meagre and paltry pittance for what is a six-day or seven-day job. They are front-line troops. Unlike us, they are the representatives-----
They are the Senator's electors.
Yes, but they are the representatives of the people to whom people go in the first instance. Whether it is an issue about a pothole, maternity benefit or any other kind of benefit or allowance, they get the request in the first instance. I, therefore, look forward to that important debate. We know that there are many issues involved in reform but let us tease them out here. We can have a worthwhile debate on the issue. I look forward to the Leader agreeing it in early course.
I second Senator Ardagh's amendment to the Order of Business. I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, would come to the House to speak on when the report on the re-opening of five more Garda stations will be presented. A total of 95 were closed in 2013. It may be a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality or for the Taoiseach-----
The Minister for tourism.
-----or a matter for the Minister, Deputy Ross, who pulled off a great stroke. Stepaside Garda station was one of the 95 closed on 31 January 2013 and is the only one that will be re-opened in some shape or form through this interim report that was taken out of context. Other Garda stations such as that in Rush were closed but are not being re-opened. Only one specific station concerned the Minister, Deputy Ross, who is a great stroke politician. We have to admire his ability. There is nothing consistent about him but inconsistency; there is no doubt about that.
Senator Leyden always admired him when he was in this House.
The point is that I wonder where the Minister, Deputy Naughten, was. He reminds me of the dormouse in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". The Senator might know-----
He was in the teapot.
Thank you very much. He was in the teapot.
Please address the Chair.
The point is that the Minister was present when the decision was made to appoint Máire Whelan as a judge of the Court of Appeal, which she had not even applied for, but he did not know it was happening. Then the Minister, Deputy Ross, gets a decision to open Stepaside Garda station. Garda stations in Ballintubber, Ballyforan, Ballyfarnon, Knockcroghery, Shannonbridge and Tarmonbarry were all closed at the same time, but not one of them is proposed to be re-opened. I call on the Minister, Deputy Naughten, in respect of this. In particular, Tarmonbarry, which is between Dublin, Westport and Castlebar, is a crucial and strategic location to apprehend criminals on the way to and from Dublin - where most of them come from.
It is on the very location, and I am not sure if everyone knows this particular location-----
This was closed under Senator Feighan's watch, by the way.
Please conclude, Senator.
Was I the Minister? Thanks for elevating me.
Senator Feighan, please.
The Minister, Deputy Naughten, could have also made a precondition around reopening the local accident and emergency, which he did not. I am calling on----
The Senator cannot raise a second issue.
We will not get into that.
Senator Feighan's interjections are causing a delay. The Senator will respect the Chair. I presume he does not want to speak.
I am calling on the Minister to demand that this report be presented to the Oireachtas and to identify Tarmonbarry as a strategic and crucial location. I further demand that he follow in the fine example of representational politics set by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, a man who has led the way against stroke politics. Let us follow him and get something done for Roscommon because it has been neglected by the Minister this long time-----
The Senator is well over the limit. I call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Tá ceist fíor-tromchúiseach tagtha chun cinn le seachtain anuas maidir lenár gcuid imirceach thall sna Stáit Aontaithe agus an dream atá le díbirt amach as na Stáit Aontaithe. I am raising the issue of the undocumented Irish, particularly the case of a Donegal man who has been living in Boston without being fully documented. He also appeared on an RTE "Prime Time" programme in March. His arrest and detention has sent shockwaves through the Irish community in the United States. I visited Boston at Easter and spoke to Mayor Walsh who told us that he was concerned that if people were to be picked up on legal misdemeanours of any kind, it would be very difficult for him as mayor to intervene and try to help them in their situations. It was never expected that the immigration, the ICE as it is known, would be knocking on people's doors and taking them out of their houses. It would appear that this man will be deported to Ireland. He has been living in the United States for quite a long time and has family and commitments there. I know that the Irish community there is very concerned as to what this will mean for the rest of the community in Boston.
I congratulate Deputy Ciarán Cannon for being appointed Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the diaspora and international development. I would appreciate if we could have a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality or with the new Minister of State about what contacts their Departments have with the authorities in the United States, what supports are being made available to the Irish community there and what can be done to try to help alleviate this situation, which is very concerning for many Irish citizens abroad. B'fhéidir go mbeadh muid ábalta díospóireacht a bheith againn arís faoi na gnóthaí seo sula mbeidh briseadh an tsamhraidh againn.
On the issue of gardaí and the opening of Garda stations, I do not think that politicians should try to influence Garda operational decisions around the country.
I would very much prefer to see a Garda in a squad car or on the beat than sitting in a Garda station effectively having tea. Things have changed with modern communications. It is much better to have gardaí out and around the place. I have seen it in a few areas where people were complaining that a Garda station was closed.
I do not know any gardaí who have the time for tea.
What they did not realise was that no garda had been in that station for the previous four years. In Stepaside I think crime actually went down when the Garda station closed. The same was true in County Roscommon where some stations closed and the gardaí allocated the resources themselves. I do not have any say in that and thankfully the days are gone when I could ring a Garda station asking for the time of day. Thankfully we no longer have political interference in the affairs of the Garda and on how it disperses its manpower. That is a good thing. We have to look at the figures. From what I read in the newspapers last week, crime actually came down in Stepaside.
Then why is it the only one that they have announced is reopening?
What about Tarmonbarry?
Address the Chair, please.
I do not want to get into that, a Chathaoirligh.
I think the Senator has made his point.
The Senator should ask his party colleagues why it is the only one. What about north County Dublin where crime has increased?
Garda management should look at that and allocate gardaí throughout the country where it sees fit.
Boyle Garda station was half closed.
My grandfather was one of the first to serve in An Garda Síochána. It should be taken out of the political system and allocated to the Garda.
Everyone is aware that, according to the WHO, half of all users of tobacco will die from it. The tobacco industry is no friend to anyone and most definitely not to the people who are, unfortunately, addicted to the product. The Senators will recall that I have been campaigning for some time on the incredible situation whereby the State held investments in some of these tobacco companies through the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. Thankfully, through exposing this in the Seanad and with support from all sides of the House and from the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, changes were made last December that saw the NTMA divest itself of all tobacco investments.
Through research and through information supplied to me I recently uncovered that other State and semi-State agencies are still investing money in the tobacco industry. These are under the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, to whom I wrote last week. His predecessor, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, did not act on my correspondence on this though I wrote to her on a number of occasions over the past few months.
The first organisation in question is the Charities Regulatory Authority that administers the charity investment fund on behalf of 410 charities. They have confirmed to me that the value of this fund was approximately €38 million. They have also confirmed under questioning from me that they have invested part of this in the tobacco industry. It raises the question as to whether these 410 charities know that they are investing in the tobacco industry. Are any of these charities related to health? I have asked the Charities Regulator if they have informed the charities how they are investing money on their behalf. I await a response.
The second organisation in question is the Courts Service. It invests huge sums of money, approximately €1.675 billion, on behalf of wards of court and children under 18 who have received significant rewards. I wrote to the CEO of the Courts Service three weeks ago and have had no response to date. I have written to the chairperson of the investment committee of the Courts Service, Justice Peter Kelly, to point out that it is unconscionable that money for wards of court and money awarded to children, often arising from serious medical or health issues, be invested to prop up the balance sheets of global tobacco giants.
This is an absolute joke. I propose to move a motion in this House in the near future and I hope that it would have unanimous support. I ask the Senators to send a strong unanimous message supporting motion 22 on the motion paper today and I formally propose that this be taken before No. 1 on the Order of Business.
I understand that the Cathaoirleach has very kindly given me private members' time next Wednesday. This was unexpected but it is very democratic and I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach and of course to the Leader-----
The credit must go to the Leader. I have only a small function in that regard.
The Cathaoirleach is the Lord's instrument. I thank the Leader very much indeed. It is a very healthy sign of the new politics that we are always hearing about but that never seems to happen.
It is all take, no give.
The father of the House is always correct.
Perhaps the Cathaoirleach could advise me as to the correct form of words as I have only just heard this, but I would like to seek leave to introduce the National Housing Co-operative Bill 2017 in my Private Members' time. This is a very important measure and I hope that every member of the House will stand up on this issue. With Allied Irish Banks geared to sell off a great number of distressed mortgages and with the vulture funds poised to take these over, we have a situation where we could potentially have 200,000 people out on the streets. We cannot deal the couple of thousand we have there now. What will we do if there is an avalanche of homelessness? I would like then to move that the National Housing Co-operative Bill be taken.
As far as I understand from our learned Clerk that Bill is not currently on the Order Paper. We will check it out and come back to the Senator. We will see if it can be put on the Order Paper.
I did send it and we also sent it to the Bills Office.
We might be able to answer the Senator tomorrow morning and we can let him move it then.
I bring to the attention of the House a mistake on the part of An Post in its operations and procedures as regards joint savings accounts, particularly a special joint status that operated heretofore. As the Cathaoirleach probably knows, savings accounts were operated on an agency basis by An Post on behalf of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. Owing to An Post's interpretation of procedures to safeguard individuals from being exploited in the case of joint accounts, there was a misinterpretation of rules. Since 6 June 2016, people who already had joint accounts or have included someone on his or her account - this often happens where, for example, someone has a mobility problem because of being elderly or ill and cannot get to a post office to withdraw money, so someone else's name is also put on the account to withdraw on his or her behalf - have found that An Post is refusing to pay out money unless both parties are present, citing a change in rules by the NTMA.
This matter was brought to my attention by an older man who was sick and found that, when he placed his wife on his account, she could not withdraw money. He was not able to go to the post office. I am glad to report that the issue has been resolved recently, as I understand that quite a number of people in a similar situation had also been affected. Following a tightening of procedures, the upshot is that people with joint accounts can appoint one person to withdraw money. This will be an ease for many people who are incapacitated. I am pleased that An Post has set out the procedures for its post offices in order that everyone is clear and the ordinary saver can be facilitated.
I welcome the news that the Committee on Education and Skills will recommend an end to the so-called baptism barrier. This good news is long overdue. I was disappointed that on the Commencement this morning, the Minister confirmed he did not propose to introduce any change on the matter of religious denomination on Committee Stage of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. This is a missed opportunity. The country we live in today is different from the country of 60 or 70 years ago. One in five parents baptise children to ensure that they gain entry to a school and 45% of those who identify as non-religious are young people who will have children in later years. We need legislation that reflects society, which the current law does not.
It is bizarre. In Limerick, we had to wait six months to get a headmaster appointed to my children's school because the Catholic bishop was not ready to appoint someone to the interview committee. In this day and age, I, as a republican, cannot understand why the Catholic Church still controls 96% of national schools. If we believe in republican principles, it is up to us all to work towards a true separation of church and State.
On the basis of the Minister's reply this morning, I call on him to attend the House for a debate on this important issue. It is high time that we embrace true equality and republican principles. It is high time that we get rid of this baptism barrier.
Republicans are in favour of-----
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, outlined to the Senator's colleague, Senator Warfield, his reasons for not being able to facilitate a change. I believe they were constitutional reasons. Senator Gavan is entitled to press his issue, but it was debated at length this morning.
I am invading the territory of my colleague, Senator Swanick, but almost exactly 200 years ago, a medical practitioner called Parkinson gave his name to a disease we all know so well. In those days, it was called general palsy. In the 200 intervening years, little has been achieved medically in terms of a cure, although major strides have been made by medical practitioners and neurologists in the area of treatment and medication. An important conference organised by the umbrella Parkinson's disease support group is currently being held over a number of days. There was an interesting article in the Irish Examiner during the week and I am glad to say that it was written by someone related to me.
Home help and follow-up services are most important for Parkinson's disease sufferers. Given we have an ageing population, neurologists are predicting that the number of sufferers will increase almost exponentially during the next ten years, so there is an even greater need for backup staff, particularly Parkinson's disease nurses, who do fantastic work in the house and on the road by calling to patients and helping them through difficult periods.
I have referred to a significant imbalance in the allocation of Parkinson's disease nurses in Munster compared with the rest of Ireland, in particular Dublin and the wider east coast. The discrepancy is almost as much as 4:1. The next time that the Minister for Health attends the House, will the Leader ask him to consider this situation and try to redress the imbalance? This important service is growing more important every year. I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on the matter.
At some stage in the near future, will the Leader invite the new Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, to the House? I congratulate the Minister of State on his new portfolio and wish him well.
The Leader might invite him to the House to discuss how we might expand the country's tourism product. We have great products - cycling, fishing, golf and walking - and it is much easier and cheaper to pursue them in Ireland than in any other country in Europe. For instance, Ireland is probably the cheapest place in the world to play golf. The accessibility and number of golf courses make it easy for people to play, but we are not promoting golf enough. We have some great golfers the length and breadth of the country. Cycling, walking, fishing and hill climbing are other activities. Accessing our greenways, mountains, rivers and lakes is easy for people who like those activities.
Will the Leader invite to the House the new Minister of State after he gets his feet under the table in order that he might provide an outline of where our tourism products are heading?
I second the proposal by my colleague, Senator Swanick, to amend the Order of Business.
From the outset of Brexit, we in Fianna Fáil have been advocating the need for a Minister for Brexit, which is something that was never recognised by the Government. I welcome that, in the new Cabinet, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has also been given special responsibility for Brexit. With that in mind and in light of a number of facts - the Brexit scenario is, as we are all aware, an ever-changing playing field, there is political volatility in the UK and the negotiations on Article 50 have commenced - will the Leader request the Minister to address the Seanad on what his tactics will be? The Government has an action plan for Brexit, but many aspects have changed even since its publication and I wonder how fruitful it will be now. Sooner rather than later, I would appreciate it if the Leader arranged for a full debate between the Minister and all parties and none on the important issue that is Brexit.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Phelan, who got his junior Ministry yesterday, and call on him to attend the Seanad to address the serious issue of local councillors and the commitment given by the former Minister, Deputy Coveney.
I was very concerned to read in the newspaper that a survey had been carried out by UNICEF according to which one Irish child in five lives in an household in which no adult is employed. That is very serious. Also, one Irish teenager in 11 is not in school or work. The report further states that 18.3% of Irish children are living in related income poverty. Ranking 17th out of 41 countries, 17.9% of Irish children live with an adult who is food insecure. We have come in here for months on end and heard that there was a great deal of work out there and that the country was coming back on track. Even at the housing meeting I was at from 9.30 a.m. this morning, one could see the number of people who are still homeless. I then read this today in the paper about children who are still hungry and insecure. We must address this situation, because it is a very serious one. I will be highlighting it with the Minister again. I would like to have the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, come to the House to speak about the commitment the previous Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, had given to local councillors.
I call the Leader to respond. By way of clarification, I note that when he was outlining the Order of Business, he said that item No. 1 would be taken at 12.45 p.m. I understood that it would be on the conclusion of the Order of Business, which might be sooner. Is that the position?
No, it is 12.45 p.m.
That is fine, once I am aware of it.
I thank the 16 Members for their contributions this morning. I neglected to say it yesterday, but on behalf of all Members, I pay tribute to our colleague and friend, Maureen Kilkenny, who has retired from the Oireachtas one stop shop. On occasion, we pay tribute to ushers, staff and Members who retire. Maureen was always available, willing, supportive and helpful to all Members and staff and we wish her a happy and peaceful retirement. We thank her for her years of service, friendship, good humour and the banter when one walked into her office. As Senator Feighan said, she is a Roscommon woman as well, which is all good.
I begin by responding to Senators Ardagh and Conway-Walsh on the Garda Commissioner and the ongoing issues in Templemore. An examination is ongoing and it is important that we get to the bottom of it. All of us who are involved in Irish life are concerned about the revelations we have seen. Each of us wants to see a new regime emerge in An Garda Síochána. We cannot but be disappointed and concerned at the findings of the internal audit committee report. We recognise the need for change within An Garda Síochána. There is a disagreement regarding the role or future role or who should be the Garda Commissioner, but I have said in the past in the House and repeat that the removal of a single person does not necessarily lead to the reform we want. There must be significant cultural change within An Garda Síochána and just removing the Garda Commissioner will not necessarily bring about that change of itself. There is a commission on the future of policing and Senator Conway-Walsh referenced the Charleton report. All of that is being carried out as we speak. What we agree on is that reform is necessary and that change must take place. Co-operation must be forthcoming from all parties in regard to the issues outlined. I sit on a number of policing fora in Cork. As such, I note that it is also important to recognise that huge work is being done by members of An Garda Síochána to which we need to pay tribute and acknowledge.
Equally, Senators Feighan and Leyden raised the issue of the closure of Garda stations. We can have a political back and forth about what was closed under Fianna Fáil, what was closed under our Government and what is happening in the North with Sinn Féin in government, but that will serve no purpose. What we must do is ensure we have a Garda presence in our communities which prevents crime. I hope, certainly, that the civilianisation of An Garda Síochána will be expedited by the new Minister for Justice and Equality with the Policing Authority so that we see more gardaí freed up for the beat, more patrol cars and a higher level of visibility on the ground. By the same token, I hope for the opening of Garda stations where people can go to get forms signed or passports stamped, which is not necessarily the work of gardaí themselves. We need to see a complete modernisation of the way in which the force does its business. Having listened to the Chair of the Policing Authority in Cork last Monday, I am confident we will see a fast-tracking of the civilianisation of An Garda Síochána. I record again that it was the last Government and this one which reopened Templemore and restarted recruitment which was stopped on Fianna Fáil's watch. We are now recruiting more gardaí. I accept that every community wants a Garda station and more gardaí, but we must ensure we have a presence which is about preventing crime and working with local communities.
Senator Ardagh referred to the appointments of Ministers of State yesterday. I remind her that 22% of Members of the Thirty-second Dáil are women while in Fine Gael, 45% of our female colleagues are Ministers or Ministers of State. That is 26% of Cabinet members and 21% of Ministers of State. Of the 11 Fine Gael Deputies who are women, six hold ministerial office. When one adds the two who chair Oireachtas committees, it is a pretty good record. I accept that we would all like to see more and that we need to reduce the barriers to women becoming active participants in elected politics who can be appointed to office as Ministers and Ministers of State. We accept that there is a need for more women but to be fair to this Government and the last, we have made huge reforms to encourage the greater participation of women in politics. It is something we should encourage. Rather than criticise, we should welcome the appointment of six of the 11 Fine Gael Deputies as Ministers or Ministers of State as well as the further two who are chairpersons of high profile Oireachtas committees.
Having regard to the Senator's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, I note that the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, is not available today. I hope to have him in either tomorrow or next Tuesday and will liaise with the Senator if she is happy to do so. I accept fully and agree about the issue of the cath lab for Waterford which Senator Murnane O'Connor raised yesterday. I note the commitment in the programme for Government to carry out an independent clinical review and that was done under the chairmanship of Dr. Niall Herity. He reported back and made his recommendations. This morning, however, I offer again my sympathies to the Power family, which is where our thoughts should be at this time. We can argue the political issue after and it is a point to which we will come back. I am happy to have the Minister come in tomorrow or Tuesday, although it is most likely to be next Tuesday.
Senators Boyhan, Paul Coghlan and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the appointment of Deputy John Paul Phelan as Minister of State with responsibility for local government. I congratulate him on his elevation and appointment. He comes with a vast experience of local and national politics, having served in both roles with distinction, including as a Member of this House. It is important to reconvene the Seanad's all-party group on local government to address councillors' pay and conditions and to include the issue of local government reform. I would be happy to have the Minister of State come to the House. The issues raised by the three Senators are important.
Senator Dolan referred to the story of a lady last Friday in Cork which epitomises what is good about our public services and those who work in them. A person in obvious distress was assisted by members of Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann who should be complimented and thanked for the work they have done in this case. It went beyond the call of duty on one level but is also, as Senator Dolan, said only to be expected. I am tempted to say it is what we do in Cork anyway. We are very hospitable and friendly people. On a serious note, people who work in the bus station at Parnell Place and in Kent Station are exemplary and they put customer service at the centre. Senator Dolan is right about where we need to go. I agree 1,000% on that cultural change and the mindset that should operate when dealing with people with disabilities.
I would be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss that matter and the issue relating to the UN convention.
In response to Senator Leyden and as I said to Senator Feighan, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, is not responsible for the Garda stations. I think that is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan.
Deputy Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I know that some people are using Deputy Ross as the bogeyman of the Government. As we know, all politics is local. It is important to consider the collective as well as the individual and the local, but the national must take precedence.
All at a political stroke.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh is well able to use stroke politics himself.
In what way?
Clientelism is alive and well in Irish politics.
The Leader needs to clarify that.
The Leader needs to withdraw that.
The Leader should withdraw that statement.
The Leader should not take the bait.
Clientelism is alive and well in Irish politics.
On a point of order, a statement was made about my character and I would like it to be withdrawn.
That is not a point of order.
I will clarify it.
I am asking the Leader to withdraw the statement.
I am not accusing the Senator-----
The Leader should try to refrain-----
I will clarify it. I am not accusing the Senator-----
The Leader said I am well used to stroke politics. I have never been involved in stroke politics in my life.
I accept that. I was not saying that. I apologise. I did not mean that and the Senator knows I did not. I was referring to clientelism. That is alive and well in Irish politics. That is the point I was making. The Senator is very good-----
One thing about Sinn Féin members is that they work very hard on the ground.
The Senator is very good at clientelism himself in terms of the way he comes in and represents his people. That is the point I was making.
That is very different to stroke politics.
I accept that and I was not trying to say anything else as the Senator knows quite well. I accept the point he makes and that was not my intent.
Strokestown is not just a town in Roscommon.
The Leader should avoid being baited and concentrate on his response.
Sensitivity is very high.
Chonaic mé an clár mar gheall ar an bhfear i mBostún agus tá díomá orm go bhfuil sé le cur ar ais go hÉirinn. Beidh mé i mBostún i gcomhair an summer. Tá a fhios agam gur bhuail an Seanadóir leis an Mayor Walsh. It is disappointing that an Irish person has been deported and it is a source of concern. I will be in Boston during the summer and I hope to meet members of the Irish community dealing with the issue to which the Senator refers. I congratulate Deputy Cannon on his appointment as a Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the diaspora and international development. I will be happy to invite him to the House.
I will be happy to accept Senator Swanick's amendment in respect of the Bill he proposes. I congratulate him on the work he is doing in respect of tobacco. He is working with all of us to make Ireland a tobacco-free society. There is a need for change in the way we vest funding in tobacco companies where there is a dividend. The Senator recognises the changes that have been made and, to be fair to the former Ministers, Senator Reilly and Deputy Noonan, they have worked to bring about that change. The Senator deserves credit in respect of the matter he raises. It is disappointing that he has not received the responses he, as a public representative and as a medical practitioner talking about the public health issue to which this relates, deserves. I am happy to accept the amendment.
Senator Swanick has moved an amendment regarding motion No. 22. It is not a Bill. Is the Leader agreeing to that?
Yes I am agreeing to that.
In response to Senator Norris, as Leader of the House, I always try to work with all people. Sometimes the street is one way and that is alright but in this case I am happy to facilitate the Senator.
I really appreciate the Leader's decency.
The Senator might spread the word in that regard to other people. It is a two-way street.
Yes, I have always held that the Leader is a very decent and able politician.
It is not wise for the Leader to be looking for accolades in the Chamber.
I was not looking for accolades. I was getting a point across.
It is important that he is a good fisherman.
Exactly. Senator Mulherin raised the issue of An Post savings, the NTMA and the protection of people. That is a matter of serious importance and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the baptism barrier and the response of the Minister for Education and Skills to the committee this morning on the matter. He gave a lengthy reply to Senator Warfield, making the point that he believes it is unfair that parents who might not otherwise do so feel pressure to baptise children in order to gain admission to their local schools. At the end of his reply, as the Senator says, the Minister indicated that he will not make a change but that he has not had a chance to consider the report in detail. He said he has reviewed the conclusions and recommendations. The committee has recommended that the relevant legislation, the Equal Status Act 2000, be amended to the effect that no child will be denied admission to a State-funded school. However, the Minister is not going to change that. He did say, however, that he is committed to reforming the role that religions play in the school admissions system. That is positive. I hear the Senator's words and I thank the committee for its report. We have a bit of work to do yet and it is important to engage with Equate Ireland and other groups. For each one who is for what the Senator wants to achieve, there is another who is against it. It is important to have that debate and to see some action.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan mentioned Parkinson's disease and the need for GP, home help and community interventions and supports. The Senator is right that supports are needed. There are discrepancies in supporting many illnesses. He is right to highlight it and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House.
Senator Paddy Burke mentioned the new Minister of State with responsibility for tourism. I congratulate Deputy Griffin on his appointment. Senator Burke is right that we have a tourism product which we must continue to market around the world, particularly because there has been a decline in the number of visitors from the UK since the Brexit referendum. The Senator mentioned the competitive nature of our golf tourism product. I will be happy to invite the Minister of State to the House.
Senator Paul Daly continues the great Fianna Fáil line that we should have a Minister for Brexit. Senator Davitt was very eloquent yesterday in asking that Deputy Enda Kenny be appointed Minister for Brexit. The Taoiseach has given the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, the task of being the lead Brexit Minister.
He was listening to us.
He must have been. I am glad to hear that. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House. He is in the North today engaging in talks and I wish him and all the parties involved in that very important task of getting power sharing restored in the North good luck.
Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to the number of children in poverty. It is important to recognise that more people are at work now than in a decade. The Senator can shake her head but that is a fact. I accept that there are people in poverty, on low pay and unemployed and there are people we need to lift out of that cycle of poverty. The best way to do that is to get people on the live register working and to have activation measures to ensure no child is left behind. As somebody who worked in myriad jobs before coming here, I am very much aware of the need for early intervention and I would be happy to have the Minister for Employment and Social Protection come to the House.
Do I understand that the Leader is happy for me to introduce the Bill?
Yes I am.
Everything is in order.
It is not on the Order Paper printed today so maybe tomorrow.
I understand it will be tomorrow.
The Senator will have to move it again tomorrow. I cannot accept something that is not on the Order Paper. If it is on the Order Paper tomorrow, I will allow the Senator move it again.
Senator Ardagh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the adequacy of cardiac services in Waterford be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. We are going to accept the Leader's offer for the Minister to come in on Tuesday.
I am endeavouring to get him to come in tomorrow or Tuesday. Is the Senator saying Tuesday?
Tuesday is fine.
Senator Swanick has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That motion 22 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is willing to accept this amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.