The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on household waste charges, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply; No. 2, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 4.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2 and with the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I welcome the news this morning that the Cabinet is to consider a new €2 billion cancer strategy programme. The plan, which will see between €1.5 billion and €2 billion spent on improved services and medicines over the next decade, comes with a warning that the number of cancer cases will almost double over the next 20 years. This is not news. We have known that an increase in patients presenting with cancer would be inevitable with our ageing population. Over the next 30 years, the number of people in Ireland over the age of 65 will double and the number over the age of 85 will quadruple. The percentage of deaths attributable to cancer has risen from 20% in the 1980s to over 30%. This percentage will continue to rise. The plan also stresses that as much as 40% of cancers are avoidable. That fact is important.
I have raised this matter in the House previously in the context of legislation relating to tobacco. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland and is linked to approximately 6,000 deaths per year. The estimated cost to the health care system of smoking is more than €500 million per annum yet there are still organisations under the remit of Departments that facilitate tobacco company investments. It beggars belief and flies in the face of the aim of a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025. I uncovered the fact that the Courts Service has invested more than €6 million of a trust of €1.6 billion in the tobacco industry. This includes moneys relating to wards of court and moneys awarded by the HSE to children due to medical misadventure. This needs to stop and the Courts Service needs to divest itself of these investments as a priority. I ask the Government to introduce legislation on this matter.
I move that leave be granted to introduce the Life Saving Equipment Bill, No. 11 on the Order Paper. This is a Bill to provide for a specific offence of interfering with life-saving equipment such as defibrillators and lifebuoys. I welcome Deputy Casey, who helped me draft this legislation, to the House. I will hold a briefing in the audio-visual room at 12.30 p.m. with members of the Community First Responders Network and Irish Water Safety. They will explain the role their organisations play in fund-raising, installation and training in the use of these vital pieces of equipment and, in particular, the knock-on effect of acts of vandalism and theft. I hope to see many Senators attending the briefing and I would be grateful for cross-party support on this issue.
Can I formally second that proposal?
The Senator cannot speak out of turn, we will let him in later. Is the Senator moving an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 11 be taken before No. 1?
That can be seconded in due course. I would create a dangerous precedent if I allowed Senator Horkan speak out of turn. It would cause problems.
I am only formally seconding the proposal.
I also acknowledge the presence of Deputy Casey. We always like to see Deputies pay homage and offer due respect to us in this House.
I am not sure he is paying homage. He is just sitting there.
It is the Upper House.
As it is my first opportunity to do so, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, for all the great work he did as Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. I welcome the new Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the role. I am certain he will continue his predecessor's great success. I also warmly welcome the appointment of Deputy Deasy as special envoy to the United States Congress to highlight also the plight of the undocumented Irish. This appointment of an envoy is very significant and will be of immense value to those of us who are lobbying and fighting every day for immigration reform in the United States.
Having spent the past few days at meetings in Washington DC and at meetings with other Irish groups in Philadelphia, as well as in my own city of Chicago, I am aware of a lot of fear in the Irish community at how President Trump's immigration policies could affect them and their families. This is understandable given what they see and read every day in the newspapers. Despite recent high-profile press reports and having spoken with a wide range of groups, so far in 2017 I can count on one hand the number of deportations and pending deportations of Irish nationals that do not involve substantial criminal charges. This does not, however, mean that we can become complacent.
Immigration enforcement authorities have been given a clear message by President Trump. There is an intention to deliver on that message, but that does not mean that such authorities are not sympathetic to cases of those who had been there for 20 years, are married and have American-born children, are gainfully employed and pay their taxes. Sympathy can only go so far, however, as the law must be implemented, and it is up to us as legislators and representatives of Ireland to shift the sands of our campaign in order that families of the type I describe are not fearful that at any moment, even if they got a speeding or parking ticket, they could suddenly find themselves subject to deportation hearings.
The prospect of comprehensive immigration reform passing through both Houses of Congress in 2017 or even 2018, is extremely low given the current political climate. In the meantime, in our diplomatic and lobbying effort, we need to focus on what binds our two great countries together. We often talk about the one in four jobs that are created by US multinationals based in Ireland, but often lost is the figure of $35 billion in economic output that Irish companies based in the US generate for the US economy. Irish firms in the US employ almost as many people as US firms employ in Ireland. In California alone, over 25,000 jobs have been created by Irish companies. There are over 200 Irish companies in each of the 50 states in the US at more than 2,600 locations and Ireland is the 13th largest supplier to the US.
What we need to do is to promote the economic relationship between our countries in our immigration debate. We cannot separate the two. It is here where the greatest goodwill between our countries lies and where perhaps the greatest influence can be brought to bear. It is my hope that through dialogue, both on St. Patrick's Day between our new Taoiseach and President Trump and in our ongoing efforts, we can appeal to the unique relationship between Ireland and the US in persuading those charged with both directing law enforcement authorities and creating their policy approach that a special case can be made and communicated. This case would be made to ensure that families who have built indelible ties to their communities and have raised families do not have to live in fear every day that someone might come knocking on their door and split up their family. I look forward to working with Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon and Deputy Deasy in advancing this cause.
We are very dissatisfied that a deal has not been done to get the assembly up and running in the North. I thank the Sinn Féin negotiating team for doing everything humanly possible to get a deal, and indeed others in wider civic society for the hugely positive role they have played in trying to get the Executive and assembly up and running.
The fact that we do not have a deal rests squarely on the shoulders of Theresa May and her Tory Government. This is a monumental failure by her Government, which, after all is supposed to be a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. To hear a leading DUP voice this morning saying that the Irish Government should keep its nose out shows exactly, to right minded people, what we have been up against. He cited that Ireland doesn’t tell other countries to operate a rights-based society. What kind of nonsense is this? It is obvious that he and his party fail to acknowledge the legal responsibility of the Irish Government under the Good Friday Agreement. The fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, said he was in favour of Acht na Gaeilge sent them into a frenzy of hostility. What part of the right of any person living on this island to his or her Irishness or Britishness do they not understand? The entitlement of any of us to our Irishness or Britishness surely should never be offensive to anybody. Why are they so frightened by the prospect of two people who love each other expressing that love in a lifelong commitment of marriage? Why are families denied inquests decades after their loved ones have been killed? Why is it, when more than 15,000 republican men and women have served more than 100,000 years in jail, that the British Government refuses to open the files that show the extent of the collusion between its security forces and loyalist paramilitaries? The fact is that the DUP have not addressed the equality and rights issues that caused the collapse of the political institutions. Nineteen years after the Good Friday Agreement and ten years on from the St. Andrews Agreement, the DUP have blocked an Acht na Gaeilge, a bill of rights, marriage equality, respect, anti-sectarian measures and progress on legacy issues.
It is clear that a restored assembly and Executive is only sustainable and tenable if it is based on fairness, respect and equality. To agree to the restoration on any other basis would be to facilitate the denial of basic rights that are protected in England, Scotland, Wales and the rest of Ireland. This would facilitate cruel discrimination against hundreds of thousands of people on our island. It is something that we in Sinn Féin refuse to do. Sinn Féin will not consent to be governed by the DUP on their terms, just as we would not expect the DUP electorate to consent to be governed by us on Sinn Féin terms. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, come into this House to debate how the Government plans to ensure that the rights of people living on this island are upheld and implemented and how he, working with the Government, intends to play his part as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
As a party, we completely support Senator Swanick's Bill and wish him well with getting it through the Houses as speedily as possible.
Yesterday evening I had the pleasure as the chair of the cross-party Oireachtas Friends of Palestine committee to be present in the audiovisual room to watch one of the most powerful and upsetting films I have ever seen, entitled "This is Palestine". Directors John and Gerry McColgan, working alongside Trócaire, have produced a great piece of work showing the everyday lives of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and the apartheid nature of the Israeli state. The horrific conditions of life in the Gaza Strip were seen through the eyes of people living there. The interview with the couple who lost all their young children when their home was bombed by Israeli forces in the 2014 war was possibly the most upsetting thing I have ever seen. The parents of those children were still traumatised. They spoke about their children's heads being blown off; it was horrendous.
The hopelessness felt by the Palestinian people must be addressed. The occupation of lands and the internal displacement of Palestinians in the occupied territories is in contravention of international law. While most countries pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution, it is now time for the formal recognition of Palestine as a state. This can be enacted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I would like to know when that is going to happen.
I urge everybody to view this film, as to plead ignorance of the injustice being inflicted on the Palestinian people is no defence. As was once said, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. I urge all Senators and Deputies to watch this excellent film and to speak out about the injustices being inflicted on the Palestinian people. I intend to send out this film through a link to everybody in the House and I encourage people to watch it to see what is going on over there and the horrendous conditions in which people are living.
I commend Senator Black on showing the film last night. I am sorry that I could not go as I was here in the Chamber for the debate on the Domestic Violence Bill. I agree with her on the need to ensure we have that declaration from the Government. I have long supported that principle, as indeed has the Labour Party.
I ask the Leader for a debate on women in politics, and in particular on gender balance in Cabinet. I very much welcomed, as we all did, the visit to Ireland of Mr. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. It was good to see the Canadian Premier visiting here, particularly given the long-standing ties and relationship between Ireland and Canada. While the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, was paying tribute to Canada by wearing Canadian-themed socks, perhaps a better tribute would have been had he tried to emulate the Canadian Prime Minister's commitment to gender equality in having a gender-balanced Cabinet and in upholding gender parity as a principle in practice, as well as in theory.
I was very disappointed to hear the Taoiseach say that while he is a feminist - although he went on to qualify that definition - he will seek to move towards a gender-balanced Cabinet over the next few years. That is simply not good enough when one can see in the governments of Emmanuel Macron in France and Justin Trudeau in Canada that a gender-balanced cabinet is very easy to achieve without delay.
I also call for a debate on inward migration. In particular, I ask for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to update us on the Irish programme for the settlement of refugees coming into Europe through Italy and Greece. We heard this morning a very heartfelt plea from the Italian ambassador who said his country has done a great deal to welcome refugees who have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and that other European countries must do their share too. This is an area in which we can learn from Canada, which has a long and proud history of welcoming inward migration. I ask for a debate on that early in the next term if we do not have time for it in this one.
I also ask for a debate on cycling safety with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. Very disturbing figures were released earlier which indicate that over 100 cyclists are seriously hurt in collisions each year. That is based on Road Safety Authority, RSA, figures. In the first six months of this year alone, ten cyclists have been killed. There is really serious concern about the safety of cyclists, particularly in the context of the Luas works. I am aware of the issue personally because I cycle through the city centre every day. It is very dangerous for cyclists to come into contact with Luas tracks. When will we see progress on the Bill tabled by Deputies Cannon and Regina Doherty on minimum passing distances, which is a crucial cycling safety measure?
I welcome the fact that the national cancer strategy has been launched in the last few minutes following its approval by Cabinet. A great deal of money has been granted for the expansion of services. As Senator Swanick said, it is a proven fact that cancer is on the increase. While I welcome the fact that the age threshold for bowel screening has been brought down, I ask the Acting Leader to raise with the Minister the fact that screening under BreastCheck still commences at age 50. Previously, I called for the reduction of the age threshold relating to BreastCheck on a Commencement debate. I repeat that call now.
I attended the launch of the Retail Excellence Ireland pre-budget submission earlier and it was great to meet many new retailers who have opened businesses. I met one who has opened a shop in Limerick in the past couple of weeks. Retailers called today for a 3% reduction in VAT and I support them in that regard.
I formally second Senator Swanick's motion on life-saving equipment and damage to it and thank other Senators for their support for the Bill.
As Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, I welcome the ongoing investigation into motor insurance. It was announced yesterday that there was an investigation by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to examine what is going on in insurance companies. As we all know, anyone with a car has experienced huge increases in motor insurance premiums in the past number of years. While there have been increases of 60% and 70% in the past two to three years for most users, there have been much greater increases for some users, particularly returning emigrants, people in the freight transport industry, younger and older drivers and people driving older cars. I welcome the investigation, though it may turn out that it is not the issue. If that is the case, it will be good to know. If it is the issue, that has very serious implications for the motor insurance industry. We need more competition and greater transparency in the motor insurance sector. Ultimately, we must try to reduce the cost of premiums by reducing the cost and number of claims. Perhaps the Acting Leader may be able to get the new Minister of State with responsibility for motor insurance in the Department of Finance to come to the House to discuss this matter.
I wish to refer to the INMO's release yesterday of figures on overcrowding in our hospitals. The figure for the period between January and June shows record levels of overcrowding, with 52,000 admitted patients on trollies, in overcrowded wards or on plastic chairs. My own hospital in Dublin South Central, St. James's, is the largest in the country. The figures for the hospital have almost doubled in the first six months of 2017 when compared with last year. The trolley issue is beyond a crisis. The health service is not fit for purpose. We have major capacity issues with beds, recruitment and retention of staff, funding cuts and the legacy of embargoes. We have put forward - in the future health care plan - a single integration management system which outlines how to deal with capacity issues and the shift to primary community care, a matter about which we talk so much in the Chamber. Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for Health to come before the House to set out the process of implementation of the future of health care plan and what emergency measures, if any, he brought to the accident and emergency task force in the context of dealing with overcrowding?
I wish to raise the issue of the fires in Cork. There was a major fire at one of our unique buildings in Cork last night which is very troubling to everyone involved. Our Lady's Hospital in Cork is one of the most marvellous structures on the western side of the city and it was badly damaged by fire. It brings into question how we are going to deal with buildings and structures with such history and character. This is one of the longest buildings in Ireland. It has a great name and great architecture but it has been very badly damaged by fire. The building has been empty for many years. The local authority must take ownership of a lot of these structures. Vernon Mount, another heritage house, this time on the south side of the city, was burned last year. These structures must be protected. They are part of our history and our legacy going forward. Their architectural significance is well documented and how we protect them is key. Local authorities must use the powers they have to make compulsory purchase orders to ensure these structures can be kept. I ask for the Minister of State with responsibility for local government to come to the House at some stage to discuss how he hopes to ensure that these structures will be protected in the long term in order that the heritage of these unique buildings will be retained for future generations.
I wish to ask one simple question. What has Dublin done to this Fine Gael Government? In the past year, there has been a total lack of understanding of the issues affecting Dublin. Dublin makes a huge contribution - socially, economically and culturally - to the country but fails to get a fair deal in the context of investment. Dublin needs a loud and clear voice. I have supported a directly-elected mayor for many years. Fianna Fáil has tabled a Private Members' Bill on this in the Dáil, as has the Green Party. I have raised the issue in the House on many occasions. On the most recent of these occasions, the Minister gave a commitment to come back on a directly-elected mayor in June. It is now July but we have had no word. What we had was the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, having a laugh by suggesting three mayors for Dublin. It is purely a laugh. No one has considered that option.
The Taoiseach is on record as saying that Dublin needs a directly elected mayor and Fianna Fáil and the Green Party support that stance. I am not sure of the position of Sinn Féin. It is totally logical that a city of this size should have a directly elected mayor and that its citizens should have a voice. If the Government is going to have a laugh at the expense of the city, it will cost the country economically. We need that critical investment in the infrastructure of the city but it is not happening. I want to see the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, or the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House to answer on their commitments to the capital city because those commitments are not being honoured. The city is being ignored and I, for one, will not stand for it any more.
I echo what the previous Senator has said about inviting the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and electoral reform, Deputy Phelan, into the House. However, I do not see any point in having him here until we have confirmation of his devolved functions as set down by his principal line Minister. It is my understanding that they have not yet been issued. There is no point in having him here until his specific statutory responsibilities and obligations to the Department as well as his own, stand-alone functions are clear. We need to know whether we are talking to somebody with devolved power. If he does not have this, we should have the Minister himself come to the House instead. One area I would like the Department to consider is the proposals regarding the rumoured changes to local council boundaries for the next local elections. I understand that a commission is about to sit or that terms of references are to be drawn up for one. I would like to hear more about that.
I would also like to hear some explanation as to why the payment promised by the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, namely, the €1,000 allowance to councils outside of Dublin, Cork city and Galway city, was refused. A circular was issued by the Department in which the Minister undertook to pay these councils on 1 July. That date has come and gone and I understand nothing is happening. I appeal to the new Minister to look at the whole issue of county councils being treated equally and having the same terms and conditions in respect of allowances. I ask the Acting Leader if we could have either the Minister or the Minister of State, if he is given the relevant devolved functions - of which I would like to have sight of a copy - come to the House for a meaningful debate.
I join in expressing concerns in respect of the announcement by the UK's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the weekend that the UK would unilaterally withdraw from the London agreement on fisheries without any consultation. Aside from the substance of the London agreement, it does not bode very well for the UK's attitude to fisheries, which in turn does not bode well for Irish fishermen. One can put it in context by noting that the UK's exclusive fishery zone - if it succeeds in leaving and in retaining its territorial waters - would comprise 33% of the north-east Atlantic waters, while 36% of fish landed by Irish fishermen are from UK waters. This is grave and serious. We are not only talking about Irish fishermen being blocked from going fishing but also, potentially, about them competing with fishermen who will no longer be regulated by the EU or be operating under various environmental and sustainability criteria but who potentially basically can fish at will. I can well understand why fishermen are very concerned.
The Minister should come in here to debate the issue as a matter of urgency. It is a tangible and real problem. We are trying to gauge where the issues are going to arise, what will run smoothly and what will not. There is a clearly a problem here. The flag has been raised. It seems that the British approach to Brexit is that if they do not get everything they want, they are not for it. There needs to be a bit of a reality check. When we are negotiating other matters and giving concessions to the British, the case for the Irish fishermen should be brought to the fore. Fishermen have been trying to raise this matter for some time and now there is some focus on it.
I wish to raise the same issue raised by Senator Byrne. She made the point quite well. We had a submission this morning from Retail Excellence Ireland on VAT. Irish retailers operate 45,000 business nationwide, employing 300,000 people directly in retail. That is the largest private industry employer in the country. As a consequence, €4 billion of VAT and €1.7 billion of PAYE payments are made to the Exchequer annually. Those are quite large figures in the context of our budget. The current UK VAT rate is 20%, which means there is a differential of 3% between that and the current Irish rate. This is an extreme impediment to business. I call on the Minister to immediately react by reducing our VAT rate to 20%, and not to do so gradually. Irish businesses need to know, particularly now that Brexit is at the door, that they are at least on an even footing.
I ask the Acting Leader to pass on the message to the Minister. It is something he should address immediately. Retailers have had a hard time, as we are all aware, although the ship has steadied over the last while. I would certainly appreciate it were the Acting Leader to discuss this with the Minister and I call for a debate on the matter in this House.
I commend Senator Black on organising the screening of the film "This is Palestine" by John and Gerry McColgan and on her words today. It is a powerful film and is free to download from the Trócaire website. All of us should try to share the film. What it shows of the Palestinian people's suffering is truly shocking. I particularly welcome Senator Noone's attendance for some of the screening yesterday. In what I hope is a non-party political way, I ask for everyone's co-operation in asking the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to recognise the state of Palestine. The vote has already taken place and there is widespread support for this. Every day that the Minister refuses to formally recognise Palestine is a day on which he is implicitly supporting an apartheid state. No one in this Chamber should be prepared to stand over that. I ask for the Acting Leader's co-operation in that regard.
There was a very disturbing meeting of the jobs committee yesterday and there was cross-party agreement on the need for an urgent examination of practices within the fishing industry. I will not go into detail in the short time I have. One particularly disturbing point was that the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, MRCI, has repeatedly requested a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine but he has refused to do so. I ask that the Minister come to the Chamber to debate the practices in the fishing industry. There was cross-party agreement that those practices are shocking. I ask also for a commitment from the Minister to meet the MRCI as a matter of urgency.
As I had a hospital appointment yesterday morning, I missed the Order of Business and therefore did not have an opportunity to congratulate our colleague, Senator Buttimer, on his engagement. I would like to take this opportunity to wish him and his spouse every happiness in the future.
I thank the Senator for his brevity. I call Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I wish to highlight again the housing crisis. The new Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has said that the new Rebuilding Ireland plans for 2020 will not be met. I have just come from a housing meeting. I am calling again for the Government to legislate in respect of credit unions. We have been having meetings with them. They are willing to work with the Government. They have between €173 million and €520 million that they could use to build social housing to help with the housing crisis. I call on the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy to bring in new legislation. This needs to be done urgently.
I was taken aback by the Taoiseach's announcement that he will consider introducing steep rises in property tax on vacant properties to help fund efforts to increase the housing supply. Property tax in rent pressure zones may also be increased. People are only surviving. While I understand that a vacant property has to be kept painted and clean, a lot of people and places are still in recession. The Government needs to bring in new legislation to allow the credit union sector to build social housing. Steep increases in property tax on vacant properties are unacceptable.
The decision of the British Government to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention has been raised. I urge the Acting Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the Seanad as soon as possible to address this matter of immense importance to our fishing community around the coast. Some 100,000 tonnes are caught in those waters by our fleet every year, so it is an extremely serious issue. One component of it that has not been raised yet is Lough Foyle. British Governments claim the entire area of Lough Foyle which is beside the Inishowen Peninsula, where I am from. The current Secretary of State, Mr. James Brokenshire, made a clear statement that his government claims Lough Foyle in its entirety. That is an arrogant and repugnant statement and our Government needs to do more about it.
The difficulty is that due to our failure to confront the British Government, its statement on withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention means, in practice, that it is claiming the fishing rights of Lough Foyle. We must have urgent clarification from the Minister that the Irish Government will defend the rights of fishermen living on the Inishowen Peninsula to continue their livelihoods. A clear statement must be made that their livelihoods will be protected. I seek urgent clarification on this issue and on whether the Minister has made contact with his counterpart in the British Government to deal with it. I ask the Acting Leader to invite the Minister to the House at the earliest opportunity to make a statement to clarify, first, our position in respect of the London Fisheries Convention and how we intend to engage with the British Government on it and, second, the status of Lough Foyle and what the Government is doing to challenge the British Government on its arrogance in this matter.
I wholeheartedly support everything Senator Mac Lochlainn said about Lough Foyle. I also wish to mention briefly the situation in the North and the lack of power-sharing, which will lead to a political vacuum when Brexit is on the agenda. People in the North deserve a channel or a voice through their Assembly. That is lacking now, so there can be no broad debate by the communities' representatives in Stormont. That is an indictment of the political process and is definitely an indictment of Theresa May's government. There is a need for the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to discuss this issue. It is crucial to all citizens in the North that Stormont is up and running again, particularly in light of Brexit.
I was taken aback by the recent Constituency Commission report which showed the city of Derry as Londonderry on its map. This was done by a Government agency here.
It identifies Derry city, Doire Cholmcille, where I went to university, as Londonderry. That should be addressed and should never, ever be allowed to happen again, when it is paid for by the Irish taxpayer.
The final issue I wish to mention is the pay of Defence Forces personnel. The Defence Forces are under huge pressure. There have been marches by wives and partners throughout the country. They are totally under-resourced. The Government is sitting back on this issue but it must be addressed. Defence Forces personnel have to go to the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and other places to deal with their financial stresses and burdens. They deserve to be paid adequately for the work they do on behalf of the Irish State.
Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh don chuairt a thug an Príomh Aire Trudeau ar an tír seo. Ba mhaith ann é agus is maith an rud é go bhfuilimid ag ceiliúradh an nascadh idir muid fhéin agus Ceanada. I welcome the visit by Prime Minister Trudeau to Ireland. We were also lucky to have a number of parliamentarians from Canada in the Houses earlier and we had a meeting with them. The links between Ireland and Canada are incredibly strong. Over 4.5 million people in Canada are of Irish descent. It was clear from the meeting this morning that there are incredible links across sporting, cultural, language, education, business and other spheres. Unfortunately, there appeared to be more focus on socks and walks in the park from the media, rather than on the substantive nature of our relationship with Canada. Organisations such as the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre are doing incredible work with the Irish in Canada, particularly those who are trying to set themselves up in new lives as well as those who are trying to return. In addition, the Ireland Canada University Foundation is creating great linkages between the universities and academics on both sides of the pond. Perhaps we could have a focused and substantive debate on relations between Ireland and Canada in the Seanad. It would be important. It is also important to acknowledge the role that Canada has played over the years in forging the Good Friday Agreement, in the peace process, supporting the Ireland funds and so forth. We might need a little more support from it in the current impasse with the talks in the North and the re-setting of the Assembly. I seek a specific debate on Irish-Canadian relations.
That leads me to suggest a debate on the Irish diaspora. There is a newly appointed Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and there are concerns that the promises made previously, particularly regarding voting rights in presidential elections, might not be as high on the agenda of the current Taoiseach as they were for the previous Taoiseach, and they were not high enough on his agenda either. Any slippage on that issue would be a concern. A debate on the diaspora and particularly on where we stand on granting voting rights in presidential elections to the Irish abroad would be very welcome. Perhaps the Acting Leader would invite the Minister to the House to discuss it. It would be a good debate.
I remind Members that yesterday the Order of Business went on for 12 minutes longer than scheduled and a Minister was left waiting outside. We should be more mindful of these matters.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. Perhaps we could have a debate in the not too distant future on anti-social behaviour. Criminality is a problem but, at present, we have anti-social behaviour that is being tested in terms of the age profile of the people doing it and of how the laws apply. There were incidents in the Old Cratloe Road and Caherdavin area of Limerick in which young people going about their business were attacked by youths. Another student was attacked outside Limerick Institute of Technology in the past 12 hours. Perhaps we could have a structured debate on how the anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, are working and whether they are fit for purpose. There is a small element engaging in unruly, anti-social behaviour of a severe nature. It is not a case of normal youths engaged in mischief. Perhaps we could invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the House to discuss whether the current system for dealing with anti-social behaviour is fit for purpose.
Will the Acting Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to the House to discuss Brexit, specifically in the context of yesterday's comprehensive report on Brexit and, more particularly, in the context of its impact on the Border areas and on communities in Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Donegal and Sligo? The counties along the Border are likely to be hit in a particular way. There are 30,000 journeys across the Border every day and a great deal of sourcing of agricultural product for processing on both sides of the Border. There is also much trade across the Border. Tourism is a major issue and the fluctuation in the value of sterling is affecting it. There is also the connection of kinship and people crossing the Border for education, health care, summer courses and so forth. There is huge interaction and trading across the Border and the Border counties are liable to be impacted hugely by Brexit. We must have a special debate on that facet of Brexit and I ask the Acting Leader to prioritise it.
Agriculture is the major contributor to exports to the UK. Food processing and farming in counties like Cavan and Monaghan are huge and stand to be badly affected.
I called what was to have been the last speaker about ten minutes ago. Three others came in and somebody else who wants to speak has come in. I call Senator Colm Burke, as the final speaker, and ask him to be brief.
I apologise for being late; I was at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health.
I refer to the serious fire at premises in Cork, which was also raised by my colleague, Senator Lombard. It is extremely important that the issue is dealt with. It is a substantial building on a large site. It is owned by a State authority and has been lying idle for 15 years. We now need the Minister to get the HSE to outline all the vacant premises it has which are excess to its requirements. It is outrageous that a building like this has been allowed to be burned down instead of being used in some way over the past 15 years. I ask the Acting Leader to get the Minister to come to the House to tell us how many other State agencies under his control - whether HSE or otherwise - have vacant properties being left idle when we could use them to provide services for the community.
Apparently it was not secure against trespassers as it should have been. However, sin scéal eile.
I thank the 22 Senators who raised issues today. I will do my best to respond to all of them. Senator Swanick spoke about today's launch of the cancer strategy and I welcome his positive comments in that regard. I also agree with him on tobacco legislation. We have to be prepared to stand up to the tobacco lobby at European and Irish levels. While it might not be entirely realistic to have a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025, we should strive for it. The Senator's point about the core services is well made. I commend him on arranging the presentation in the AV room today and on his work in the area. I encourage colleagues to attend. I am agreeable to taking No. 11, the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017. I commend and encourage the Senator's work in that area.
I thank Senator Lawless for his comments on the diaspora and his continued work in the area, on which he has to be strongly commended. He acknowledged the special envoy who has been put in place as well as the new Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. This will give it new impetus. I also acknowledge the work of the previous Minister of State in the area.
The Senator's comments on the economic ties are well made. Considering our size it is very significant that Ireland is the 13th largest supplier to the United States. We punch well above our weight when it comes to our reputation abroad. Our citizens tend to end up in very high positions throughout the world and especially in the United States. We need to work on it continually.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh suggested that the new Taoiseach does not seem to have this issue at the top of his agenda. However, already in so far as he can at this stage in his career as Taoiseach, he has appointed a special envoy and reinstated a Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. It remains to be seen. It would be good to have a debate with the new Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora at a time that is convenient for the Senator early in the new term.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue in the North. I understand her frustration and agree with much of what she said. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has been in the North for a number of weeks - I have hardly seen him in the House. In fairness, he has played his part. It is a very difficult situation. As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, it does not do the Brexit situation any favours not to have a clear leadership in the North. I share Sinn Féin's frustration on the issue. That is as much as I am willing to say on it on the Order of Business. The Senator suggested having a discussion on the rights of people living on this island. It would be a very interesting debate to have in due course, perhaps in the new term.
I commend Senator Black on showing the film, which was very well made. I only got to see about 15 or 20 minutes of it. Yesterday I asked if it could be circulated to Members. I encourage colleagues to watch it. It is a very difficult conflict and my heart goes out to all families that have been affected by the issue. It would be welcome to have a debate in the House on the conflict in the Middle East. We could possibly arrange something in that regard in the new term.
Senator Bacik raised three issues. I obviously support anything we can do to encourage more women to come into politics. Women for Election had a very interesting campaign in recent days and I commend those involved. It raised a lot of money. I do not know how that will be given to individual candidates or what will be done with the money. I wish the organisation well in its work in trying to encourage women. Whatever about getting women into Cabinet, if we do not have enough women in politics generally, there will be no women to put into Cabinet. Appointments are made for the most part, I would hope, on the basis of talent. That is not to say that particular women do not deserve promotion. I would certainly encourage more women into politics generally and I wish Women for Election well in that regard.
The Senator also asked for a debate on immigration, which would be timely considering the migrants settling in the country. That should be, as the Senator requested, early in the new term. Most of the issues raised this morning will be addressed in the new term, bar one or two regarding fisheries. Cycling safety is very topical. The Luas works have affected cyclists around Dublin city. It is unacceptable that cyclists are dying while just going about their business. The Government has done considerable work in this area and Dublin City Council has many positive suggestions when it comes to safety for cyclists. That work needs to be continued.
Senator Byrne also raised the national cancer strategy and the expansion of services. I agree with her comments on BreastCheck starting for people at the age of 50. It would be ideal if the age at which one could avail of that service could be reduced. It seems to be a no-brainer if and when the funds allow, that a budget be made available. A debate in the House on health generally with a focus on cancer services would be welcome. I acknowledge what the Senator said about the VAT rate being reduced by 3%. In the context of Brexit retailers are seeking such a reduction. It is certainly something I could support, but with the caveat that if it is possible we would want that not to be at the expense of something else that would negatively impact retailers.
Senator Horkan raised the very important issue of motor insurance investigations. I believe the Commission has indicated that certain companies may have engaged in anti-competitive practices. As an investigation is ongoing, I will not comment further on that. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has been given responsibility for this issue, should definitely come to the House to tell us more about that in due course when he is free to talk about it.
Senator Devine spoke about the INMO figures on overcrowding. It is very distressing for patients, their families and staff. The numbers of people on trolleys had decreased until May and have increased since May based on emergency department attendances, admissions and elective activity having increased. However, that does not mean it is acceptable. The Senator made the very positive suggestion to ask the Minister to outline the measures he has put or is putting in place to deal with this. I would be pleased to arrange such a debate in the House. I will speak to the Leader about that.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of the fire in Cork, which is terrible. He has asked for the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to come before the House to discuss this. In the context of what happened in London recently, it would be very useful to have a debate along these lines in the House. Senator Colm Burke also raised this issue and the idea that it would be a very useful exercise were the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to commission an investigation among his State agencies to discover how many other buildings lie vacant and in a vulnerable state like the building that caught fire in Cork.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of a directly elected Mayor for Dublin, which is a suggestion I support. There would be no point in having a directly elected Mayor unless he or she had powers and responsibilities in respect of how the city functions. I think the Minister would be welcome to the House to discuss this issue in the near future - obviously, probably in September or October.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of devolved functions, local boundaries and the payment to councillors, which I understand concerns vouched expenses. Perhaps there is some explanation for this, although I am not entirely clear. However, I will seek clarification and try to facilitate the debate the Senator requested.
Senators Mulherin, Gavan and Mac Lochlainn raised the UK's withdrawal from the fisheries agreement. This is very unwelcome. It forms part of the UK's approach to the broader exit negotiations and does not bode well for those negotiations, as far as I am concerned. It is important to say the matter will have no immediate effect, which gives us a bit of time to deal with, as Senator Mac Lochlainn said, the fact that families are reliant on the income they obtain from their work in this area. Last Thursday, the Minister, Deputy Creed, had a session hosted with the Irish industry at SeaFest, which is part of the ongoing dialogue on this issue. To answer Senator Mac Lochlainn's question directly, Deputy Creed has spoken, or is to speak in the coming days, with the British Secretary of State, Michael Gove, with a view to meeting on this very important issue. However, the issue warrants a debate before we finish for the summer, so I will speak to the Leader about trying to facilitate this in the next two weeks.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of VAT. As he said, with Brexit at the door, it would be good to be able to help retailers by reducing VAT but, obviously, only if it is possible in the budget. We will have pre-budget discussions in the House and it would make the most sense to discuss the matter in that scenario so I will suggest that as well.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of Palestine, with which I have dealt, and the fishing industry. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is acutely aware of the latter, his work is ongoing and it is hoped he will have some success in easing the minds of the individuals involved in the industry.
Senator Norris congratulated Senator Buttimer, as everyone did yesterday on the Order of Business. We are delighted for him and wish him well during this exciting time for him on a personal level.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of housing. The new Minister has been charged with carrying out a review of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan within three months, so it would be timely to have a debate on this in the new term. We will have a fairly long list of debates lined up for the new term by the time I am finished responding to the Order of Business, but housing is certainly an issue we need to have constantly reviewed in the House. In fairness, the Minister has been making great efforts in the short time he has been in the position. He is making great strides, as far as I can see.
I have dealt with the fisheries issue Senator Mac Lochlainn raised. Lough Foyle has been an issue since 1922 and has not gone away. We are still asserting our rights in respect of the matter but I understand the Senator's frustration, especially given the lough's proximity to him. Perhaps this could be discussed with the Minister when he comes before the House. It is a very important issue for those living locally and on the Inishowen Peninsula.
I have alluded already to Senator Ó Domhnaill's comments regarding Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister should definitely meet if this impasse continues. I note the Senator's comments regarding Derry city. Perhaps he could raise this with the Minister in due course when he comes before the House. I will not go into the matter.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh made very positive comments about Canada-Ireland relations, and I agree with him. These links need to be encouraged. The idea of Prime Minister Trudeau and our Taoiseach running in the Phoenix Park and showing their socks has a bit of entertainment value but the fact that they seem to get on very well on a personal level also makes it much more interesting to people. I do not think there is anything wrong with this. It makes their meeting more memorable. More than anything, to have done something like this makes them very good role models for our young people. Senator Norris can laugh all he likes-----
-----and he always does-----
I will laugh like a drain.
Show us your socks.
-----but in a country in which we have a very serious obesity crisis, notwithstanding the fact that we are making some progress on the food aspect of it-----
A bit of a socks-up will help, will it?
Senator Norris is annoyed he was not invited.
I am not talking about the socks; I am talking about running in the park.
Let us return to the Order of Business.
I should not be talking directly to anyone but I think it is a positive thing. Good relations between our two Prime Ministers is not a bad thing, regardless of how it manifests itself. Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised the issue of the Irish diaspora, and I have dealt with that.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised his desire for a debate on anti-social behaviour in the context of happenings in Limerick as recently as today. This is obviously completely unacceptable, and the debate he suggests would be a very good one to have because the issue is not unique to Limerick. It is happening in Dublin and other cities and towns throughout the country every day of the week. It is a very good suggestion and we will try to do something about it in the new term.
Senator O'Reilly raised the issue of Brexit, especially when it comes to Border counties. We are all very aware that Border counties are more vulnerable. There is much connectivity and interaction between the North and the Border counties, so that would be an important debate. I commend Senator Richmond and all Senators on the Brexit committee for their work. It was a very useful exercise. The matter certainly needs to be debated in the House.
To respond to Senator Burke, I have already mentioned the issue regarding the Minister, Deputy Murphy. I agree with the Senator, and we will try to facilitate the debate.
Senator Keith Swanick has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Acting Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.