Before asking the Leader to outline the business of the day, I congratulate him on his very good news and wish him and his partner every happiness and a good future. I do not want the Order of Business clogged by this but I will allow a few small comments.
Order of Business
Go raibh maith agat. The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic Violence Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements on Finite Lives, Dying, Death, and Bereavement: An Examination of State Services in Ireland, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 8.30 p.m. with the contributions of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and with the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate.
If the Cathaoirleach will indulge me, I will raise four short items. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I congratulate the Leader on his recent engagement to Conchobhar Ó Laoghaire. On behalf of our group we wish him the best happiness into the future and wish him the best of luck with his wedding preparation.
The second issue I will raise is the cath lab for the south east. I commend all those who supported and demonstrated outside Leinster House today. The south east is the only region in the country without an operational cath lab open after hours and weekends. It is an absolute disgrace that even one life has been lost as a result of the negligence of the State. I extend my sympathies to the Power family and commend its members on championing this cause and leading the demonstrations today. Their bravery in ensuring this does not happen again is commendable in a time when they should be grieving.
I will also raise an issue I have raised on numerous occasions on the continuing increase in house prices in Dublin and the lack of supply. In Dublin alone, house prices are rising by over €5,000 a month. These figures are absolutely incredible. There is no way on earth those of us on an average salary - or even anybody with a gold-plated salary - could afford to save for a house the way house prices are increasing. It is impossible to save for a deposit and to compete with rising house prices. This Government has yet to deal with the elephant in the room that is supply and it has done nothing to address it to date. The now failed help-to-buy scheme will create even more chaos and inflated prices as it is envisaged it will be abolished in the next few months. It will feed into an already chaotic frenzy of people trying to secure a new home at these inflated prices. We need to look at practical measures to increase supply. We need to look at the cost of certification, VAT, investment in infrastructure and some form of "use it or lose it" taxes on those who have planning permission but are not using it. I call on the new Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come into the House to explain what measures he will be taking. I do not believe he has been in the House yet. There are many young families and young people watching this space with great disappointment. There are over 2,500 families who are homeless and cannot wait any longer. It is no longer correct for the Government to do nothing. We want to see action and sods being turned in the country.
I will conclude by commending the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on implementing some of the key measures of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's report on emergency child protection measures. She is probably one of the fastest-acting Ministers in terms of implementing recommendations. I commend them.
I will raise four items today. Today the IFA and farmers are coming together in the biggest dairy sector trade show and information day in Moorepark in Fermoy, County Cork. It is the biggest gathering of dairy farmers and the farming community. The big focus this year is the shortage of labour supply and professional skilled labour. It is a big challenge for the agricultural sector generally but particularly for the dairy sector and horticultural sector. It is one that needs to happen. We need to look at joined-up synergies between the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It is a key sector. We have had exemptions in the past where people from non-EEA countries are given permits to come into this country to work. We need to look at that. It raises another big issue, which is the number of people in direct provision who have clearly expressed a wish to work in the fruit sector and the agricultural sector. They are prevented from working in this country and many of them have been here for six, seven or eight years. I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Today, in the AV room there was a presentation on cardiac services for the south east. Anyone who was present could not help but be moved by the highly charged emotion, frustration and disappointment of the people of that community who came here in large numbers today. It was interesting.
Over 20 elected councillors from that region arrived here today as did their Deputies. I note a number of senior Fianna Fáil politicians were there today. Their interest in this story is telling. I issue a note of caution. Having spoken to a number of people who are key in holding that Government together, I believe this issue could have a huge impact on the cohesion and stability of the Government. They should not underestimate the seriousness of the issue and should do something about it.
I take the opportunity to congratulate Senator Richmond, Heidi Lougheed and officials from the secretariat who supported the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on their really good work and the comprehensive report launched today. It was meaningful and good for the Seanad. It was particularly good that the issues were dealt with comprehensively and put into this brochure. I recommend that people look at the report.
I congratulate Senator Buttimer, the Leader of the House, on the announcement of his engagement. I wish him every happiness. I know it is a very special time for him. He has a tremendous record of dealing with issues in this House. He is an exceptionally popular Member of this House and I know everyone will wish him the very best.
I also congratulate Senator Buttimer and his partner, Conchobhar. I wish them every happiness and good luck with their wedding plans. It was a joy to hear that good news on the radio this morning.
I commend the people of Waterford, many of whom I met outside this afternoon. I express my condolences to the family of Thomas Power. I have absolute solidarity with them because those of us in the west of Ireland know what it is like not to have these services. It takes two hours and 22 minutes to get from my house to the nearest cardiac unit in Galway. We know we are unlikely to survive that journey if we need cardiac services earlier than that. I urge people from Waterford, Mayo and other areas around the country who are deprived of vital services to join together.
I have no doubt that people are dying prematurely because they cannot access the services on time because they suffer a heart attack or stroke on the wrong day of the week or the wrong time of the day. That is wrong at any level. It is wrong to live in a Republic in which people sacrificed their lives 100 years ago and still have a State where people cannot get these vital services. I commend the people from Waterford who are here. I also commend my colleague, Deputy Cullinane, who produced his report on cardiac services for the south east. I urge the Government to listen to these people and put right what needs to be put right so that people can get these vital services.
I welcome that officers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission raided the offices of Insurance Ireland this morning. As a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, I sat through many sessions where we attempted to get clarity as to why the premiums had rocketed in recent years. I also labelled the industry as behaving like a cartel. The fact that the Central Bank accused companies of not providing information or providing false information seems good grounds for an action such as that taken this morning.
The massive spikes in insurance premiums left many people in financial difficulty. There were no explanations given for these massive hikes. After attending an entire module of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach during which all the major companies were questioned, we were still none the wiser as to why the premiums rocketed in the first place. The answers we received were evasive, contradictory and repetitive. It is a pity that actions such as this morning's are necessary to get to the truth. I hope that these raids will form the start of a thorough and forensic investigation into an industry that has not been helpful or forthright in answering questions.
I also welcome the start of public hearings at the Charleton inquiry. I am not happy that we have another expensive process of finding out the truth. In Ireland it seems that the truth is the most expensive commodity that we search for.
I also wish the Leader of the House every happiness in the future. It is great to see the results of the referendum on marriage equality here in the Republic.
It is to be hoped marriage equality will come shortly to every part of the Thirty-two Counties, where every citizen will have the right to have his or her love acknowledged. Well done to Senator Buttimer for the work he did during the marriage equality referendum campaign in Ireland.
I wish to raise one more important issue that is getting more and more media coverage and about which I am very concerned. I refer to issues relating to Dublin. We need to be very careful about plans to rebalance the economy away from Dublin. The Government is failing to understand the importance of Dublin, specifically to the Irish economy. Jobs lost in Dublin are lost to cities such as Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Luxembourg and Birmingham. They are not lost to small rural villages and towns across the country. Dublin competes on a European and a world platform, so to starve Dublin of investment in infrastructure and public transport will greatly damage the Irish economy.
Nearly 70% of all tax income is raised in the greater Dublin area. I increasingly see a bias developing within this Government against Dublin, and this will affect the Irish economy. I have had reasons before in the other House to warn Fine Gael Ministers not to rip off Dublin. Now I give the same warning not to strangle Dublin because it is at the heart of the economy of this country. If investment into infrastructure and public transport is strangled, the Government will damage the Irish economy.
I ask the Leader for a full debate on plans to rebalance the economy on this island. I for one have always stood in solidarity with rural Ireland and sought investment into rural Ireland. However, we also need that level of investment into our public transport, our roads and our housing in Dublin, and if that does not happen, this country will be the worse for it because we compete in Dublin on a world stage for foreign direct investment. One can see a growing bias in the media and from this Government against this city. I for one will stand up for Dublin. I am fed up listening to this attitude of "ye in Dublin" getting far too much. Dublin needs investment in its critical infrastructure and it needs it now. I seek a full debate in this House on economic plans for the city.
I rise to raise a World Health Organization, WHO, report that, thankfully, has found that sugar consumption among 11 to 15 year olds decreased between 2002 and 2014 although, unfortunately, obesity has continued to increase. It is good to know that the efforts made and the awareness campaigns being run about diet are having some effect.
The data for Ireland show that 70% fewer 11 to 15 year olds drank sugar-sweetened soft drinks daily in 2014 than in 2002. The same survey found that daily vegetable consumption had increased by 12.5%. However, despite these positive figures on the diet front, obesity in Ireland has been steadily increasing over these years. Although some children's diets may be healthier, it is clear some other issues are contributing to obesity - for example, our sedentary lifestyle and our obsession with social media and the like. Computer usage of two hours or more on a weekday has increased by 203%, for example, while moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity of 60 minutes or more a day has decreased significantly.
I have raised concerns about the increased time spent online, not least because of children's and teenagers' mental health, but this report from the WHO suggests that factors such as the increased use of computers and smartphones, as well as video games and the like, have a substantial part to play in our obesity issue. I raise this issue and this report so that we might have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, brought into the House when we reconvene. I know there will be much legislation over the next while and, in fairness to the Leader, he did have the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, come before the House relatively recently for a discussion on obesity. Unfortunately, there is no specific Ministry responsible for obesity now so it falls back on the desk of Deputy Harris to deal with.
We need to continue to have an integrated approach to tackling obesity in this country. It is still a very serious problem. Some progress has been made however, as is evident from this report.
I, too, would like to join with others in the House in congratulating the Leader on his engagement. We can all look forward to a date in Cork in the not too distant future.
On a more serious note, along with many other Members, I have raised the issue of the future of rural Ireland many times. This, unfortunately, would appear to have fallen on deaf ears, as proved by two media reports this morning. One report concerned ambulance cover in rural Ireland and the fact that six counties in this State only have one ambulance covering the entire night-time period. Other counties only have two ambulances covering the entire 24-hour period, seven days a week.
One of those counties is County Monaghan. As I travelled down from Monaghan to Dublin this morning I listened to a lady from Donegal giving a very graphic and emotional account of how her mother lay on the side of a road in the Inishowen Peninsula for an hour and a half waiting for an ambulance. This was three and a half years ago. She commented that it was promised back then that something would be done, but three and a half years on the available service, or should I say lack of service, has still not progressed. That is very disappointing. She also made the point that there were three fire stations on the Inishowen Peninsula but only one ambulance.
What this highlights is the need for further and immediate investment in the ambulance service. We should perhaps also look at training our fire station personnel as first responders so that they could go to the scene of an accident, wherever that accident might be, and stabilise the individual until an ambulance arrives.
The other issue is that of broadband. Again, this has been raised by many Members and is a big issue for rural Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, now tells us that the promised broadband roll-out will be delayed by a further 12 months. It has now reached the stage where any broadband announcement from this Government is a complete joke which, unfortunately, nobody from rural Ireland finds funny. Be it in the farming sector, in small business, or even just schoolchildren doing their homework, rural Ireland needs broadband. We are desperately trying to get that broadband rolled out as soon as possible.
I ask the Leader to invite both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment into the House to address these issues.
I had not been aware of the Leader's engagement and I am delighted for him. It could not happen to a nicer man. I wish the Leader and his partner all the best and I really look forward to the wedding. I will start saving from today.
At the request of the Ceann Comhairle I led a delegation last week to Berlin. I was joined by my colleague, Senator Butler, who will I am sure have something to say about this later. It was fantastic to see the work being done by our foreign affairs staff, in particular His Excellency, Ambassador Michael Collins. He has done tremendous work, as indeed had the former Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, and the former Taoiseach. Everywhere I have been to speak on Brexit in Europe, these names keep coming to the fore. I do not think that we can say this often enough in this country. People are not aware of the amount of work being done by the Government. I will leave it to my colleague, Senator Butler, to fill the House in about that trip.
I thank the Leader and the Minister of State with special responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, for bringing forward the outstanding payments for members of the Defence Forces. It is extremely important. There is, however, one very worrying aspect to the publicity around the Defence Forces at the moment. I am being contacted by people asking where they can donate food parcels. This is not something that we want for our Defence Forces. I know that neither the Minister of State nor the Taoiseach want that either. Together we have to find a solution to this, though possibly not on the floor of the House. I ask for the Leader's support on this matter.
We were talking about air ambulances. I live where I do in Dublin because I am within ten minutes of St. Vincent's Hospital.
I have a tricky ticker. There are many people around the country who also have tricky tickers but who are not as fortunate as me. Why can we not use the helicopters of the Defence Forces? The problem is that we do not have enough pilots. We must step up to the plate and get the Air Corps back in the business of bringing people who are in need of urgent medical attention to hospital as quickly as possible. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach allowing me to speak on two matters.
I do not hear the second one.
I join other Members in congratulating Senator Buttimer on his engagement and in wishing him well.
Yesterday evening, I attended an open meeting in Kilbride Community Centre, Four Mile House, Roscommon, in respect of issues faced by early years educators. There were over 50 early years educators at the meeting. They are very frustrated and disillusioned and feel very undervalued. The issues they discussed predominantly relate to their wages. The average wage of a child care worker and early years educator is €10.27 per hour. Many of them must sign on during the summer because of difficulties with their contracts. They talk about their huge frustration with the consultation with government agencies on the progression of the child care sector. They have also spoken at length about the burden of administration and the increase in administration over the past number of years. Finally, they speak about the need for investment in facilities.
Obviously, many improvements have taken place in upgrading child care facilities, but the major difficulty is that we must invest in our staff. The staff are highly educated, as were all the people who attended the meeting last night. They are very committed to their work. Parents trust them with their children each day when they drop them off. However, the workers are extremely frustrated. They feel that while regulation, standards and the qualifications required have increased, the wages have not increased to reflect the demanding nature of the work within this sector. Improvements have taken place with regard to seeking to provide affordable child care for parents and the provision of the second preschool year, but we must value the work being done by early years educators. I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, be invited to address the House on the very serious issues we face in the early years child care sector.
I join other Members in wishing the Leader well and in congratulating him on his good news today.
I wish to raise the issue of financial waste and outsourcing in the HSE and I ask that the Minister for Health be invited to the House to discuss it. This matter was revealed last week on foot of a parliamentary question submitted by my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly. Since 2012, the State has spent €25.6 million on private ambulances and €800,000 of that was spent in Limerick. This colossal spend on hiring private ambulance services is financially imprudent and does not constitute anything like a long-term strategy for an essential public service. I will put this in context. For the €800,000 spent on outsourcing private ambulances between 2012 and 2015 in Limerick, University Hospital Limerick could have bought, staffed and owned four fully equipped emergency ambulances. Instead of this short-term planning, we must have the HSE invest in new ambulance services and build our own publicly-owned stock. Otherwise, our stock will continue to deplete and we will become utterly reliant on private providers who will demand higher fees while at the same time paying significantly less to their staff. The evidence of this is in the eightfold increase in State spending on private ambulance providers between 2012 and 2015, and there is no sign of a change in direction.
One often hears about the political centre and how the centre must hold. There is nothing of the political centre about a rightward rush to privatise our ambulance service.
That is what has taken place over the last years. The Government's own figures show this. Does the Leader support his Government's policy of the ongoing privatisation of our ambulance services? To me it is an absolute disgrace and it is a betrayal of the public sector workers who work so hard in that sector.
I wish my colleague, Senator Buttimer, all the best and congratulate him on his great news. Last week Senator Craughwell, Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe and myself visited the German Parliament to discuss the issues of Brexit and the European Union. We met with the Parliament's leader, the finance committee, the interior Minister and the education committee. Of course Brexit was the big issue. The German finance committee had met with the English finance committee two weeks previously. It said that there had been no proper planning on the part of the English finance committee for leaving the EU with regard to banking. The British representatives had said that, when the UK left, it would not pay in respect of commitments given to the EU for the period to 2020. The German finance committee said that everything was up in the air. It said it was like a proper pantomime. All that was missing was Boris Johnson hidden in the middle of them.
Now we see Britain flexing its muscles on fishing rights. In today's paper we see that Brexit could cost the farming industry in this country €1.2 billion. According to officials, the reason is that difficulties would be compounded by the increased costs associated with implementation of border controls, particularly if there is a disadvantage from EU regulations and standards in the UK after Brexit. We are in very worrying times. Germany has said that it will stand by us, as have the other 27 member states of the European Union, but the German officials have said that they will not let Britain walk all over them. This looks very bad for Ireland when it comes to a soft border because the other European member states will not let Britain walk all over them. I call on the Minister to start asking questions of our counterparts in Britain and to ask exactly what is going on.
I, too, congratulate Senator Buttimer. I know I will be seeing a lot more of him in Carlow. I hope he does not get any ideas about running in that constituency. Again, I wish him the best of luck. I wish to highlight again the importance of the meeting that was held today in respect of the cath lab at University Hospital Waterford. I know that it has been given great support here but we need the 24-hour service in Waterford. The Minister clarified last week that money was not an issue. We need to get that sorted and it is an urgent request.
I also want to bring up the issue of today's report in the Irish Independent, which I know has been brought up previously, regarding the new figures that show that Carlow, Sligo, Meath, Longford, Donegal and Laois sometimes have just one ambulance on call at night. That has happened on a regular basis. I looked into the logistics of the ambulance call-outs. The ambulance base has to either ring Dublin or Donegal. When there is a call-out they wait for a reply from Dublin or Donegal. The decision as to who goes on a call is based on the nearest resource. Recently, for example, an ambulance needed to be dispatched to Hook Head in Wexford as the ambulance from Wexford was unavailable due to either being on a call-out or being elsewhere. In this case Carlow paramedics were sent on a 108 km trip to the person in Hook Head and then drove 66 km to University Hospital Waterford. This would be the norm for the Carlow crew who are left to cover the counties of Laois, Kildare, Kilkenny, Wexford and Wicklow, leading to Carlow having one of the busiest paramedic crews in the country. This is unacceptable. It is frightening to think that there is only one ambulance covering this area. We need to get this addressed. This is an urgent matter.
To go back to rural Ireland again and the subject of broadband, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has said that it will be 18 months before broadband will be considered again. This is urgent. People depend on broadband, whether for business or whatever. We need to get this sorted as soon as possible.
I congratulate the Leader and wish him all the best for the future. It is great news. The very best of luck to them both.
I raise the issue of the new accident and emergency unit in University Hospital Limerick which is the most overcrowded emergency department in the country. Some 4,150 people have been treated on trolleys in the hospital since the start of January. Despite the opening of a new accident and emergency unit that is three times the size of the old emergency department, overcrowding remains a problem. I, and many of my colleagues, have raised this issue with the Minister of Health numerous times. The hospital requires new beds and 90 replacement beds are needed in St. John's Hospital to try to alleviate the overcrowding problem in the region. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister come to the House. It is terrible that University Hospital Limerick has treated 500 more people on trolleys than University Hospital Cork and almost 700 more people than the largest Galway hospital. We must continue to raise this issue until it is resolved.
I extend my warmest congratulations to Senator Buttimer who is a lovely person and wish him every happiness on this great occasion.
Today, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Justin Trudeau, met the Taoiseach. While much attention has been paid to what the two men were wearing on their feet, what is more important are the steps they are taking to face the challenges facing our shared world. There is much that the Taoiseach and the Canadian Prime Minister can learn from each other. I hope Mr. Trudeau will convey to the Taoiseach that gender equality is not optional or an add-on but a foundation for a modern society and something on which we must build. I also hope the progressive legislation the Government has passed on hydraulic fracturing will be discussed and considered at the meeting because, unfortunately, the position taken by Prime Minister Trudeau in respect of the tar sands is one that is incompatible with a global effort to avert catastrophic climate change.
To be consistent, I must also refer to the trade and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, between Canada and the European Union, which also needs to be discussed. Yesterday, representatives of farmers' groups, small business organisations, environmental groups and trade unions, which do not often sit together at a table, agreed that they are concerned about this trade agreement. Their position is not that they oppose trade and they certainly do not oppose trade with Canada, with which Ireland has a very healthy trading relationship. In 2014, we exported services valued at €1.1 billion to Canada and in 2015, the balance of trade between the two countries was almost two to one in favour of Ireland. While trade is healthy and good, the concern is with the model of trade provided for in the agreement. CETA is a legacy of overreach by the European Commission. It contains investor court systems which are dangerous and unacceptable and a negative listing system which places everything on the table. We should decide what we put on the table. Ireland has some of the lowest levels of exclusions, in other words, matters we have taken off the table, of any country in Europe. I appeal to Senators, Deputies and the Taoiseach to consider that the European Commission told us CETA did not need to be ratified by national parliaments.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
However, the European Court of Justice ruled that it must be ratified by parliaments and stated the European Commission was wrong to ignore citizens' initiatives involving millions of citizens across Europe.
The Senator is over time.
Even those who support the deal should ensure it is not ratified until it has been tested by the European Court of Justice to ensure we comply with the standards and provide the checks and balances we need.
I call Senator Lombard.
This is an issue that goes deeper than handshakes.
The Senator went a minute over time. I cannot allow her to do that every day. She must respect the Chair.
I join other colleagues in congratulating Senator Buttimer on his good news and wish him the very best of luck.
I would like to follow on from Senator Butler's issue regarding Brexit, where we are going and how we will deal with these issues regarding agriculture and fisheries. I take into consideration the announcement on Sunday by the UK that it is pulling out of the 1964 London Fisheries Convention. That is a major issue for the Irish fishing industry and will be one of the real key battle lines regarding Brexit. How we deal with it will be a key issue for an industry that, as the Cathaoirleach knows more than anyone, feels very much on the periphery of Irish society itself. In how we deal with the fishing industry, the statement by the UK has been deeply unhelpful and unwelcome. I would like to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine how we will move forward with the Brexit negotiations after this declaration. It would be important for the House to have a full debate on the statement by the UK and how we will progress the Brexit talks. It would be appropriate, before we adjourn, for the Minister to come to the House in the next few weeks to give a brief outline on how he proposes to deal with the Brexit talks and this core issue. There are communities throughout Ireland that are dependent on fishing. How we ensure they have access to the sea area between six and 12 nautical miles around the UK is important for them. This is a ticking time bomb in so many ways. If we can get the Minister to the House, we might get that bit of clarity that the people require.
Cuirim leis an chomhghairdeas atá seolta chuig an Cheannaire ar dea-scéal s'aige go bhfuil sé anois idir geall agus pósadh. I echo the sentiments of congratulations to the Leader on his recent announcement.
I echo the remarks by my colleague, Senator Boyhan, about the Seanad special committee's report on Brexit being published today. I commend the report to other Members if they have not seen it already. I understand that the Leader will be setting aside time for statements on the Brexit report next week to give us the opportunity to remark on it. I will await that debate to go into the finer detail. However, it is a significant body of work and the committee secretariat are worthy of our praise, thanks and recognition, as is Senator Richmond for his steady and astute stewardship and chairmanship over recent months.
To add to that sentiment, I want to reflect on and commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, for his clear remarks the week before last at the launch of the report on Brexit of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. He made clear his aspiration to see a special status achieved for the North, which is a stark change in tone from the Government and one that is welcome and, more important, necessary. Given the period we are in, there is merit in bringing in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to update the House on the latest Brexit situation and his contributions to the talks, or lack thereof, currently taking place in the North. Not only were his remarks in terms of a special status welcome but I also welcome resolutely his remarks that the Irish Government supports a stand-alone, rights-based Irish language Act for the North. I consider that a responsible call and one that is in tune and in concert with the vast bulk of MLAs and the public in the North.
It will please the Cathaoirleach and the Leader to know that yesterday Killarney House was officially opened to the public for the first time. This was the home of the Browne family, the Earls of Kenmare, including Lord Castlerosse and later John McShain, the man who saved it for the nation and was known as the man who built Washington. He built the Pentagon building and worked on the White House in 1952. It was the Browne family who planned initially and laid out the town of Killarney, and they did a good job of it given its success today. They were responsible for the foundations.
In July 2011, the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, announced a restoration package worth €7 million which saved the house from almost certain ruin. Seven years later, Killarney House is officially open and has the potential to become the top tourist attraction in the south west. I thank the Taoiseach for his foresight and for that decision. The main rooms have been restored in period style, complete with original furniture from these families. The building has been magnificently restored. I toured it yesterday and it is a great credit to everyone who worked on it. The house and gardens are a sea of tranquillity, only a stone's throw from the centre of town, and are well worth a visit. I recommend it to all.
When is Senator Coghlan moving in?
I wish the Leader every happiness on his important announcement today. I am sure we will have the opportunity to celebrate suitably in due course.
I believe the Senator lost his seat in Killarney too.
I call Senator O'Donnell.
I thought Senator Coghlan was Killarney's answer to Bord Fáilte.
I extend my congratulations to our Leader, Senator Buttimer, on his engagement and wish him well. The big day is not too far ahead. It will be some time in December. As a good politician he has timed it to make certain it does not happen when there could be an election.
There could be a Seanad campaign then.
Are we getting a preview?
I am no sage.
On Sunday, a new service was launched from Shannon Airport with Norwegian Airlines flying weekly to Providence, just outside Boston, and to Stewart, just outside New York. It is a great news story for Shannon, for Limerick and the region.
A review of the runway capacity at all State airports is under way, commissioned by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. The percentage of traffic coming into Dublin is going up. It was 80% and is now 87%. There is talk of a third terminal in Dublin. Shannon Airport is operating at 50% capacity. We speak of balanced regional development. This is a relatively small island and that should be taken into account in this review. I have no doubt that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will come before us to discuss other matters. Bord Fáilte, in its marketing abroad, should encourage people to come to the mid-west and the western seaboard, including Cork. That is often overlooked. If Dublin grows beyond sustainability, it will have a negative impact on the wider economy. We are more than open for business in Shannon for extra capacity for airlines.
I wish my colleague well on his forthcoming marriage. Everybody here seems to want to be invited to the wedding. To quote the old story about the politician and the difference between a wedding invitation and a speeding fine, the politician could do something about the speeding fine but not about the wedding invitation. We would be only too delighted to go to the wedding that night.
I agree with Senator Ó Donghaile about the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney's remarks about the Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland. He has made a very strong impression in Northern Ireland. I was in Belfast last Saturday night and I observed the Down colours flying on the Short Strand.
I do not think people realise that while Belfast is in County Antrim, the Short Strand, where Senator Ó Donnghaile is from, is in County Down. I wish Down every success on Sunday week along with my own county of Roscommon which is playing Galway next Sunday, when the minor team of Sligo is also playing in the Connaught final.
The marching season is up and running. I hope that everything will work out in the coming weeks and that there will not be a vacuum that could let things get out of hand. A lot of good work has been done by the communities on all sides to ensure that this will not be the case.
Everybody is talking about ambulance services. We absolutely need more ambulances in rural areas. I want to highlight that the air ambulance located in Athlone has saved dozens of lives. We need to expand on that and I certainly feel that we can.
I congratulate the Leader on his recent announcement and wish him and his partner every success in the future. I thank him for the courage he has shown over the last five years in respect of major changes that have occurred in Irish law, namely, the referendum on marriage equality, and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in the sense of getting it through various public hearings. He has shown great courage since he became a Member of the Oireachtas.
I wish to raise my concern over decisions taken by the HSE in the last few weeks in respect of support services for survivors of breast cancer. I became aware last Friday morning that major changes are being proposed which would withdraw those supports from some areas of the country while helping to improve support services in areas that did not have them. I find it disturbing that when I contacted the Minister's office, and it in turn asked the HSE for clarification, the HSE responded by issuing a statement to the press outlining the changes without first corresponding with the Minister. I also find it disturbing that there was no consultation with the service providers who give the supports to the women.
These new changes were brought about without really consulting those who are dealing with breast cancer survivors every day of the week. I thank the Minister for taking on board my concerns and for telling the HSE last Friday evening that it could not go ahead with these proposed changes.
We need to have the Minister come to the House to clarify what changes are going to be made and to make sure that the services required by people who have had mastectomies and require ongoing support are protected. We must make sure there is no withdrawal of services and that they are provided in other areas of the country which do not have them at the moment. It is extremely important for these people and we should take on board their concerns as well as those of the service providers.
Like other colleagues, I wish the Leader and his partner well for the future. I agree with Senator Kieran O'Donnell's comments on regional development and particularly on the development of our regional airports. Dublin Airport is almost at full capacity. There is talk of another terminal and at least one other runway. A lot of this work could be avoided by upgrading the road infrastructure to Shannon Airport. Doing so would open up that airport to the part of the country from which I come. Indeed, the infrastructure should be continued into the North of Ireland. As my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, will attest, Belfast International Airport is an excellent airport. Those airports should be prioritised for upgrade and the infrastructure to Belfast and Shannon airports should be put in place in order to avoid huge expense to the taxpayer at Dublin Airport.
That is a matter on which we should have a discussion. We should invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State with responsibility for regional development to come to the House to discuss it.
I congratulate the Leader on his engagement. I wish him and his partner well and the very best of luck for the future. I would also like to express my sympathy to the Deasy and Hanafin families on the deaths of Austin Deasy and Des Hanafin. I hope the Leader will provide time for us to express sympathy to the families at a future date. The two deceased were former Members of the House.
I would like to support a number of other Senators who spoke in respect of Brexit. I congratulate the Brexit committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Richmond, on launching its report today. It was a very well done report and the committee is to be congratulated for the hard work it put into compiling and launching it.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come before the House to discuss the decision of the UK on fishing in its waters? It will have a significant effect on the fishing industry in Ireland and Europe. We need a debate on this issue. The British want Ireland to pull out of the EU. It is well known that quite a number of politicians in the UK would like Ireland to pull out of the EU because there would be a ready-made border between the British Isles and Europe. There would be no problem in Ireland and it would suit the British if there was a water rather than land border. It is also well known that the House of Lords compiled a report and quite a number of Lords, including Lord Howard, want Ireland to pull out of the EU. A recent report suggested that Ireland would be better off out of the EU. While are firmly European and are committed to Europe, it is important that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine come to the House to discuss fishing in British waters. I am of the view that Britain will raise every issue against us in order to weaken our case and try to get us to pull out of Europe.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an gCeannaire as an dea-scéal atá aige. Guím gach rath air féin agus ar a pháirtí.
We attended an Oireachtas Members' briefing in Galway yesterday with Youth Work Ireland, Galway's youth counselling service. It has been in existence since 2011, but is now at risk of closure due to a lack of funding. The service was set up to meet the needs of young people who could not access counselling services in Galway due to cost, location and issues relating to counsellors' qualifications. It has provided 15 hours of counselling annually across the county for young people aged between 12 and 21 years in youth centres in Tuam, Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Galway city by qualified and accredited counsellors. It is unique to Galway because it provides a free service that parents can refer to. GP referrals are not required and the service caters for those aged 12 to 14 years whose needs are not being met by the Jigsaw service, which provides listening support to those aged 15 years and older. My understanding is that other services in Galway, such as child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, are referring people to the service. The current crisis is such that it cannot continue to provide services without a stable source of funding and has had to agree that it will need to close and not reopen in September unless the funding issue is addressed. This is an urgent issue. I appreciate that we are having very good debates in the Seanad consultation committee in respect of the area to which this matter relates.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to address the issue through her good offices or by means of a debate in the House. I tabled a Commencement matter on the issue previously, but I appreciate that there are many other calls on those debates.
I am raising this issue with the Leader because it is extremely important and we are coming close to the end of the term. I hope the Leader can raise it with the Minister and her office to ascertain whether anything can be done to both retain the service and to extend it to areas such as Gort, Clifden and Carna, which have been asking for this service to be brought into those areas.
I thank the 22 Members who have contributed to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Boyhan and Conway-Walsh all raised the issue of the cath laboratory in Waterford. In last week's debate, Senator Coffey made reference to health apartheid. Senator Conway-Walsh, in her remarks, posed a very good question which we can use as a starting point. Irrespective of where we are from, the provision of services and the need to ensure that people can access services must be an overarching principle of our health system, whether we are in Castletownbere, Connemara, the Donegal-Derry border or wherever else. It is important to be able to access services. I will begin today by offering my sympathies to the Power family on the tragic death of Thomas. It is important that we understand that this is not about an individual person but a health system working for all members of society. The briefing today and the debate around the cath laboratory in Waterford is one that has been to the fore for a long time. It is emotive and highly charged and is an issue of absolute importance and of grave concern to both the Minister and to the Government as a whole. That is why the Government, through the Herity report, had an independent review. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has given a commitment to look at it again along with the issue of primary care and other types of health provision. It is important that this be allowed to take place and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. We had the debate in this House last week. It is an important issue and one that we should continue to have investment in. We should all read the Herity report. If it is to be challenged then let us do it on the basis of clinical fact and evidence. I hope that would be the policy of Government in the future.
Senator Ardagh also made reference to the issue of housing prices and housing supply. The Government, through Rebuilding Ireland, is committed to ensuring that we solve and address the legacy issues to which it had to face up in respect of housing supply and the housing crisis. Rebuilding Ireland is the Government's policy and the vehicle within which we will drive change in the construction sector through the provision of housing in various different strands. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has been asked by the Taoiseach to review the plan, to report on progress under the plan and to identify measures that are required. I am quite confident he will do that. It is important that we live up to the needs of people and meet the demands that are imposed upon us in the provision of housing, whether it is in private housing, affordable housing, the supply and demand, and social housing.
I join with Senator Ardagh in commending Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the independent Government rapporteur, on his report. I fully subscribe to Senator Ardagh's view that the Government must work with Dr. Shannon in implementing the recommendations around the protection of children. We have seen Dr. Shannon play a pivotal role in the past in this area and we hope he will continue to do so. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has been a very proactive Minister in her brief and I am sure that she will again rise to the challenge of completing this. I hope that we will have the Minister to the House.
Senator Boyhan referred to the open day in Moorepark, which is on the Cork-Dublin road. It is a huge centre of excellence in the agricultural sector, and I commend all involved in the different facets of Moorepark, including research, innovation and the development of our food sector. Senator Boyhan is correct that our diary sector is a pivotal part of our agricultural community, and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. He also made reference to people in direct provision.
I look forward to the day we allow people to work. The Senator referenced people working in the food and agriculture sector and I hope we can address the issue. There was a recent court ruling and the Government is working to implement the judgment.
Senators Boyhan, Paddy Burke, Butler and Craughwell referenced the importance of Brexit and the report of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I congratulate Senator Richmond, Chairman of the committee, as well as all Members for their input and contributions. It was a pleasure to attend and to watch some of the hearings and Senator Richmond's chairmanship did a service to the House. Over 50 hours of work went into the plenary sessions, which is not to mention the research and the work done behind the scenes. This shows that the committee system of this House and the Houses of the Oireachtas is a fantastic catalyst for change and a forum for suggestions to be brought to the Government and Departments. Senator Ó Donnghaile was also a member of the committee and I apologise for not mentioning him. We will have a debate on a motion before the House next week. Brexit is of importance to all of us and I hope the committee report will not just gain media attention but will be read by people because it is a serious and substantive piece of work on the issue of Brexit.
Senator Conway-Walsh made reference to the raids on Irish-based insurance companies today. It is important that we understand the independence of the different arms of the State in investigating matters. This case concerns competitiveness and consumer protection in the financial services sector, specifically insurance companies. I hope there is a thorough investigation but I do not want to pre-empt the outcome. If anything is unearthed it is important that it benefits the consumer and it is important that we do not find anything that is anti-competitive in the practices in this industry. If sufficient evidence is unearthed action must take place. I very much welcome the first public session of the Charleton inquiry and I hope the tribunal concludes its work in a thorough and professional manner.
Senators Humphreys, Kieran O'Donnell and Wilson made reference to regional development and I will come back to their points about State airports. Senator Humphreys said Government was interested in rebalancing away from Dublin but I do not think that is the case at all. The previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, commissioned Ireland 2040, which had a huge and impressive consultative process. He was committed, as is the current Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to Ireland 2040 being completed and published. It is a highly ambitious plan for Ireland and involves a national planning framework to ensure the people of Ireland are recognised as being from the four corners, the four provinces, of Ireland. It is not about region but people and having development on an all-Ireland scale. The importance of balanced regional development will be seen when the report is published. If there is a choked capital and nothing anywhere else, it is not a balanced country. It is not about Dublin versus the rest of the country but is about allowing for a different model of economic development. It is about ensuring we can attract investment into many parts of the country, whether Cork, Cavan, Galway, Limerick, Waterford or wherever. It is about the opportunity to work, investment in local areas and a flourishing country, not just a flourishing region. I look forward to having that debate. Ireland 2040 is about targeted, focused growth and, as the report outlines, is about urban gateways and hubs across the country.
I very much look forward to having that debate in due course.
Senator Noone referred to tackling obesity. She has been a champion of the issue in her contributions in this House since I have come back here. She is right to outline the statistics and the fact that Ireland has 70% fewer 11 to 15 year olds drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks, while at the same time daily fruit consumption increased by 26% and sweet consumption decreased by 49%. That proves the Government's Healthy Ireland policy is working but we need to do more work. I very much commend her on the work she does.
Senators Gallagher, Feighan and Murnane O'Connor referred to ambulances. I would be very happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the National Ambulance Service and the ambulance service plan which is part of the HSE's service strategy. HIQA has outlined deficiencies in some service provision. What we must have is a strategy that recognises the importance of timely access for people to ambulances.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of private ambulances but what he failed to mention in his contribution is that in the North, where I hope his party will be part of the soon-to-be restored devolved Government, private ambulances were used 561 times in the month of January at a cost of £1 million. It is not a black and white issue in terms of ambulances only being public. A balance needs to be struck. It is not the way forward to say private ambulances are always the wrong approach. It is about ensuring that all people have timely access to health care, in this case ambulance services. The people who availed of private ambulances do not care whether they are public or private once they can receive treatment.
Senator Gallagher referred to the delay in the delivery of broadband in rural areas. It is important that we acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is committed to the delivery of broadband in rural areas. We all wish we had better broadband speed and access in many parts of the country but I am confident the Minister will deliver.
Senator Craughwell paid tribute to staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in particular to Ambassador Collins. I join with him in commending all diplomatic staff across the world who represent Ireland. I pay tribute to the retiring ambassador in Washington D.C., Anne Anderson. Having met her on a number of occasions I can say she is a first-class public servant who has represented her country with distinction.
I thank her for her many years of service and wish her well in her retirement. I do not mean retirement as she is a young woman, but in the next phase of her life. I wish Dan Mulhall every success in taking up the baton in Washington D.C.
Senator Craughwell also made reference to payments in regard to the Defence Forces. I would be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, come to the House. It is extremely important that we recognise the contribution of the Defence Forces at home and abroad. I will be happy to have a further debate on the issue of pay and we should be able to have it before the summer recess.
Senator Hopkins referred to a meeting in Kilbride, County Roscommon, last night. She is right to articulate the early years sector and the issues that need to be addressed, such as those raised by the early years alliance, in terms of investment and the rate of pay for staff. I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to come to the House. It is a matter that exercises people across the country. I have attended a number of meetings on the issue in Cork and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. I thank Senator Hopkins for raising the matter.
Senator Gavan made reference to the political centre. I remind all Members that it is the political centre that governs this country. It is about having responsibility and living up to it, not being populist or catch-all to all people but about ensuring that we have a Government that delivers. I hope we will all aspire to that aim.
I thank Senator Butler for raising the issue he mentioned in terms of his trip to Berlin and the importance of the co-operation and dialogue across Europe. It is only through dialogue and communication that we will see the Brexit negotiations achieve success for Ireland.
I hope that will happen during the negotiating period.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of the emergency department in Limerick. The Government has invested in the emergency department there. We must continue to invest to address the issues of people on trolleys and waiting times. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to debate the matter and discuss the strategy.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to the meeting today between the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Trudeau, who I welcome to Ireland. As the Taoiseach said, the visit is about ensuring that we forge a relationship with Canada. Senator Higgins referred to that type of relationship. I am sure, from the bilateral meeting today and the conversations we have had in the House and across Departments, that the relationship will focus on what is good for us in the context of employment, attracting investment and business. It is about what is best for Ireland. It is not about us being an inferior partner in the relationship, it is about us being coequal. We can certainly have that necessary debate in the House.
Senators Lombard, Gallagher and Feighan referred to the decision of the British Government to change its fisheries policy as announced at the weekend. As the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, said, the decision is unhelpful and a very serious matter. It will form a central part of the Brexit negotiations in regard to our maritime sector and coastal communities. I commend all of those involved the seafood and maritime sector regarding Seafest in Galway at the weekend, which was a phenomenal success. The UK Government's decision is important and serious and we must be very proactive in respect of it. The Minister is and will continue to be proactive. Our ocean economy is worth €5.7 billion and employs 30,000 people. We must forge an alliance and a relationship with our friends and allies in Europe to promote our policy and ensure our access to waters is not hindered and that such waters remain open to us.
I join Senator Ó Domhnaill in hoping we see a positive resolution to the talks in the North. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has been very clear regarding the Government's ongoing need to see the Irish language Act form part of the talks. Special status for the North has been Government policy for a long time, as the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, made very clear in his remarks and work. As we enter the 11th hour in respect of the North, it is critical to re-establish the power-sharing government at Stormont and avoid direct rule, which none of us wants to see return. I wish all involved in the talks well. We will all work in whatever capacity we can to see that happen.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to opening of Killarney House, on which I congratulate him. He referred to Lord Castlerosse and the home of the Earls of Kenmare. I suppose we could call Senator Paul Coghlan "Lord Killarney". With the house opening for the first time, it is a great day. I do not mean to be partisan in noting that the Senator has been a champion of Killarney House. As Senator O'Donnell said, he could become a one-man band for all of the tourism bodies involved in the promotion of Killarney. He has been a champion of both the town and the house and I congratulate him and all involved on the project. I also thank the Government for providing the funding to open the house. I am sure Senator Paul Coghlan will say that there is more work to be done, but this is a positive development. It will add a huge tourist attraction to the town, joining those which already exist there. I hope to have better days in Killarney unlike last Sunday, which was a very poor day for Cork people. We will come back to that.
Senators O'Donnell and Wilson made reference to our State airports. I join Senator O'Donnell in welcoming the investment by Norwegian Air in both Shannon and Cork airports. It is not about these airports today; it is about investment in Ireland. I was at Cork Airport last Saturday to watch the first Norwegian Air flight taking off while the first flight landed there today. As both Senators said, we must examine how our State airports can be utilised to promote the country, attract investment both in business and in the tourism industry, and ensure value for money. I will try to facilitate a debate in the autumn, if not before the summer recess, on our airports and the need for regional development, as Senator Wilson said. That is not an anti-Dublin point; it is about being pro-country and using a collective approach.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the HSE's decision on support services for women with breast cancer. I join him in condemning the HSE for the callous nature of what it did the weekend. It was appalling, first, that an announcement was made on a Friday afternoon; second, that nobody was told; and, third, that the Minister had to intervene to ensure the policy was changed and stopped. It is not good enough that women in a vulnerable position, either undergoing or awaiting treatment, were subject to such an announcement. It is important that the Minister comes to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Paddy Burke also made reference to Brexit and fisheries and I have responded on that.
I sympathise with the Hanafin family on the death of former Senator, Des Hanafin. I join all Senators in paying tribute and offering sympathy to the family of the late Austin Deasy whose son, John, is a Member of the Lower House. He was a fine parliamentarian and Minister. He was a man who stood his ground. As a former Minister for Agriculture, I recall him coining the great phrase, "There will be no capitulation" in his talks with the EU when I was a teenager. Perhaps that is a fitting epitaph. For us, there should be no capitulation in our Brexit talks. I would be happy to schedule expressions of sympathy on the sad passing of both men in the coming months.
Senator Ó Clochtartaigh referred to a youth work scheme in Galway. If he gives me the details, I will be happy to either have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs debate the matter with him in the House or to approach him privately.
On a personal level, I thank all Members for their good wishes. It was great to see unanimity in respect of a matter of good news. I am happy that we, as a country, can allow all of us to get married.
I congratulate the Leader.
I thank the Senator.