The Order of Business is No. 42, motion 23 re Srebrenica massacre, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes, the time allocated to the Minister not to exceed ten minutes and the proposing Senator's speech in reply not to exceed three minutes; No. 1, Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill 2017 - All Stages, to be taken at 5.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate, and with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, motion for the earlier signature of the Rugby World Cup 2023 Bill 2017, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; and No. 3, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2.
Order of Business
Before I commence, I would like to express my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil group in regard to what we learned last night about the fatal stabbing of a three year old boy in Poddle Park, Kimmage, and the injuries sustained by his mother, a 40 year old doctor.
No child or woman should suffer violence like this, and my heart goes out to the mother and her family. I hope that when the mother recovers she can shed some light on this absolute tragedy.
I also wish to raise the issue of homeless women in this city. A recent study by Trinity College Dublin outlined that 42% of Ireland's adult homeless population are women. The Trinity College study described Ireland as having the most feminised homeless population in the EU. Alarmingly, it also concluded the picture is likely to be actually worse, as women tend to be less likely to register as homeless for fear of being stigmatised. The study also outlined that two thirds of homeless family households are headed by lone mothers. It outlines the Government's continued failure to address the housing crisis, and this highlights a certain aspect of Irish life. I ask that urgent action be taken to provide adequate housing for women and children in this city.
I also wish to raise the staffing crisis in the Defence Forces. We see poor pay has forced many members out of the Defence Forces. On average, 60 personnel of all ranks leave the Defence Forces every month. Even with accelerated recruitment, it cannot keep up with the mass exodus of personnel. We have seen this pattern throughout the public service. We have seen the closure of beds in mental health units. We have also seen difficulty in recruiting consultants in hospitals.
I call for a review of the recruitment and retention policies in the Defence Forces in particular and throughout the public sector generally. Some of the worries highlighted by a University of Limerick report included poor pay and conditions for members of the Defence Forces, a feeling of unfairness and worries about their career development, with many members of the Defence Forces taking on second jobs to survive, taking out loans and, in some cases, even applying for the family income supplement. It is an absolutely shocking and damning report and I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to address these issues as a matter of urgency.
I rise today on the issue the Fianna Fáil Party has just brought forward, namely, the matter regarding the Defence Forces. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence is on record as saying he has pride in our Defence Forces. I would like to know whether he is proud to preside over a force where an average of 60 personnel of all ranks leave every month. Does he believe the accelerated recruitment can compensate for the loss of experienced personnel?
Perhaps the Leader can tell the Seanad where is the return on the State's investment in training military personnel when they walk out of barracks as quickly as they are trained to take better paid civilian jobs. I have said before in the House how an RTE journalist said Aldi was the place for commissioned officers to find a career when the Defence Forces was finished with them. Pay and conditions have been outrageous. Soldiers cannot afford to live on what they get, yet the Department of Defence returned €27 million last year. Soldiers are on family income supplement and some poor unfortunates must sleep on their ships because they cannot afford civilian accommodation.
We speak about retaining pilots. We are told by the Government that at the end of this year eight pilots will come on stream. They will come on stream to fly single-engine aircraft and are of no value with regard to the Casa or helicopter service. They will not be trained for these types of aircraft for another five years.
We speak about mental health well-being in every aspect of Irish life. Nobody seems to give a continental damn that private soldiers, not five miles from here out in Rathmines, live in what they now refer to as "Hotel Rwanda". I have seen the inside of these barracks and I have seen what they are like. With regard to human resource management, if this was the corporate world and the number of people were walking out as are leaving the forces right now, the senior managers in that organisation would be fired. We have a situation where young officers are posted at a moment's notice to anywhere in the country, without any regard for their family circumstances. We have bomb disposal officers on duty for up to 18 or 20 days a month. Is this any way to treat families? Is this any way to treat individuals? We have 11 bomb disposal officers where we have an establishment for 35. The 28th battalion in Donegal has one commandant acting as the commanding officer and one other commandant, and I believe it has two lieutenants.
Senior NCOs are not being promoted. An entire group is being seconded to promote the deficiency in NCOs. Is it any wonder privates are leaving the Defence Forces? The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, was in the Seanad recently for a debate on the Defence Forces. I am disgusted with what has been reported. The 2015 quantitative report is now backed up by a qualitative report. The Defence Forces is in crisis. Our last line of defence in this country is in crisis and nobody seems to give a continental damn.
I understand that discussions are taking place today on participation of our Naval Service in Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean. Where does this leave our neutrality?
Where stands our neutrality in that regard? I read in the newspaper today that to allow for this, parts of our neutrality will be required to be set aside. Who gave the permission for this? I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, be brought before this House to explain where neutrality fits in with Operation Sophia.
I ask that the Leader provide time for a debate on the summer economic statement. It is vital that Senators have an opportunity to discuss the statement in detail with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and examine the direction the Government is taking. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, attended the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach last week to discuss his meeting this week in Brussels. What concerns me is that the narrative being used to form economic policy is that we have almost reached full employment yet in the area I come from and in other areas in the west and rural Ireland in general, unemployment stands at over 30%. It is important we discuss this in terms of the economic statement.
The current visit being undertaken by the IMF to advise on capital investment indicates that the Government now faces a choice between tax cuts and capital investment. Several groups and think tanks have openly asked for the Government to abandon the tax cuts agenda and focus on investment in key areas such as infrastructure and education. It is estimated that we are currently under-spending on capital investment by up to €3 billion per annum. Per capita spend on infrastructure between 2013 and 2016 was 86% of the European comparator group. We need massive investment in this area to make up for the years of neglect, especially in the west of Ireland. Sinn Féin has long argued for targeted investment to increase employment in the west so it is made more attractive for further investment. We have included many of these measures in our document, A New Deal for the West, which the Government is more than welcome to use as a guide.
There are studies that point out that the lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as transport and communications can render other Government supports such as social welfare and pension payments insufficient. We have a road network in dire need of investment, which means major hospitals in the west remain many hours away by ambulance for those they serve. I invite anybody who is in any doubt about this to travel the R312, which is the road connecting the Erris Peninsula and Erris with the main hospital in Castlebar. I travelled it last week. There are so many parts of it in need of repair that by the time one gets from one end of it to the other one is physically sick.
We need investment in infrastructure. Sinn Féin has a plan to ensure that we get the best return in this regard. Before the Leader responds, I would like to remind him-----
The Senator should not anticipate what the Leader might say.
-----of the terms "fiscal space", "USC" and "U-turns".
I am sure the Leader will concur with the Senator.
I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 16 be taken before No. 1. No. 16 is a Bill to provide for refugees to apply for members of their families to reunite, enter and reside in the State. Given that there are 22 million refugees worldwide and in light of our commitment to support 4,000 people by the end of 2017, this is a very important issue and I hope the House will support this Bill.
I thank the Senator for her brevity.
Like Senator Craughwell and others, I am sometimes ashamed at the way we treat members of the Defence Forces in this country.
On countless occasions in recent years, in some cases predating the recession, I have met family members of Defence Forces personnel who are on the breadline, do not earn enough to make ends meet and believe they are not supported by the State. At a public meeting I organised in the centre of Dublin two weeks ago on the future of work I met the wives and partners of several members of the Defence Forces who are campaigning for better supports, incomes and treatment in general for their wives and partners. One way of doing this is to ensure members of the Defence Forces and their representative bodies have access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and, ultimately, the Labour Court because they do not have such access and there is a trend across Europe that suggests it is the right thing to do. Access to a labour relations commission is a human right across the world. A person has an entitlement to ensure he or she has such access to vindicate his or her rights in the workplace. That access to the labour relations machinery of the State to vindicate individual workplace rights would somehow put the security of the State at risk which is trotted out time and again is absolute nonsense. That has not been the case in any country in which such rights have been introduced. This issue was raised during the lifetime of the previous Government and pushed to a certain point. A review group has been set up to consider access rights to the WRC and the Labour Court for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. I ask the Leader to update the House on when members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces will receive the right to access the labour relations machinery of the State to have their individual workplace rights vindicated.
I support the comments made by Members about the Defence Forces. The issue comes down to a lack of respect in the manner members of the Defence Forces are treated. I join other Members in asking that the Minister of State come to the House to address this very important issue as soon as possible.
I raise the issue of the lack of GP cover in rural areas which, unfortunately, is back in the news today. A recent report, snippets of which I heard discussed, indicates that in coming years in counties such as Leitrim and Kilkenny, due to the retirement of existing GPs, the level of GP cover will be less than half what it is currently. The problem is replicated throughout the State, particularly in rural counties. With other Members, I have raised this issue previously in the House and it is now reaching the stage where it is of critical importance. All Members know that front-line primary care services are vitally important to ensure sick people will not end up in emergency departments. Unfortunately, people cannot access GPs in their area and are forced to go to emergency departments, thus adding to existing problems. I have personal experience of this. It is a very serious issue. Will the Leader request the Minister for Health to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss and advise Members and the public of the measures he is introducing to address this matter which is of critical importance.
Today I attended the pre-budget information briefing given in Buswell's Hotel by Family Carers Ireland. It was very interesting and I undertook to share some points with Members. The message conveyed at the briefing was that three quarters of carers in the State received no Government subvention. Many who are engaged in education or part-time employment for over 15 hours a week are precluded from claiming carer's assistance or support, regardless of whether they are caring for their elderly mother or another member of their family. That is grossly unfair. Family Carers Ireland identified 53 key objectives it wanted politicians to pursue with the relevant stakeholders and Ministers.
They identified nine Departments where they want politicians to pursue and address issues. I will not elaborate much further, suffice to say that these were identified as follows: 17 key issues relating to employment under the Department of Social Protection; 18 key issues under the HSE and the Department of Health; five key issues under the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; five issues under the Department of Education and Skills; three issues under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; one key target - simply one - under the Department of Justice and Equality to address with the Minister; one key target under the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; and two issues in the Department of Finance. Their requests are more than reasonable. It is about putting resources into supporting, helping and caring for people in their homes, where the majority of people want to stay unless reliance on hospitals and institutional care is needed. I believe this to be a reasonable request and I ask everyone to take the time this week to look at their pre-budget submission. It is important and worthy of support.
I second my colleague, Senator Craughwell's proposal to invite the Minister to the House regarding Operation Sophia. I was also going to raise this issue and our party's grave concerns. Operation Sophia is an EU military mission under the guise of the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, of the European Union. The primary stated objective is to target and stop gangs using vessels for human trafficking, mainly from Libya. It has, however, a much greater remit than that. Phase two, which is now under way, includes the training of Libyan coastguards to capture refugees who are fleeing their war-torn countries, and throwing them in to so-called migrant detention centres. It has a third phase that would mandate the participating countries, if necessary, to take military action in Libyan waters and on Libyan soil.
These detention centres have been proven and documented to violate the human rights of those imprisoned in them. The Libyan coastguards who are being trained have been guilty not only of abusing refugees, but also of firing live rounds into overloaded boats of refugees. Pushing refugees who seek asylum into such centres by military force is a human rights violation and morally disgusting. We should play no role in this matter.
Currently, Naval Service missions in the Mediterranean Sea operate under a purely humanitarian search and rescue mission remit. Over the past two years Naval Service personnel have rescued almost 16,000 people in the south of the Mediterranean Sea. This is outstanding work, of which we can be proud. That is, however, as far as our intervention must go. We cannot allow the EU to undermine Ireland's neutrality and we must stand against any further militarisation of the EU and any forerunner to the creation of an EU army. Operation Sophia is a military response to a humanitarian problem and it will not solve anything. We must continue our search and rescue missions and significantly increase the relocation and settlement of refugees in Ireland. I call on the Minister of State to come to the House immediately to debate this.
I wish to offer condolences on the passing away of the little three-year old boy, to his mother and to the family. It is devastating.
I want to speak today on the broadcasting of our national games. One of the great organisations in the State is the GAA. The pleasure given to the population from wonderful hurling and football matches is immense. When a county is doing well, the mood of the people is lifted. On RTE last weekend, the former Offaly hurler and GAA pundit, Michael Duignan, made the point that his father was not able to access the Waterford versus Kilkenny hurling match because it was on Sky TV. The argument can be made that the Sky deal brings in extra revenue to the GAA and increases the exposure of these great games. It must also be borne in mind that as an organisation the GAA relies on unpaid volunteers who give up their time to foster the games. Some grassroots reporters and volunteers cannot afford to pay for Sky Sports. It could be argued that people can go to the local pub to watch these games but this is not always possible as some rural pubs in particular cannot afford the fees charged by Sky. Young children who are the players and stars of the future should be able to see their heroes on television and not have to go to a pub to see them. Given that the deal with Sky TV runs until 2022, I believe that GAA clubs all over the State should show all the Sky games in an alcohol free setting so that children and families can also enjoy these occasions. It is such a shame that some people are denied the opportunity to see their national games on television because of lack of money.
This needs to be addressed as our unique culture should be made available to all our citizens.
I also want to ask the Leader again about the recognition of Palestine. When are we going to have the debate? We could invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade before the House. We must try to have that debate as soon as possible.
I want to raise the issue of motor insurance and Setanta Insurance. At the finance committee, of which I am a member, I asked that we seek the liquidators of Setanta Insurance to come before the committee. I believe there is a general worry and legitimate concern that many of the insurance companies have already factored the whole issue of Setanta into their pricing over the past year. It has now arisen that they are not required to pay. We might ask the Minister for Finance to come before the House to update us on the motor insurance industry. We cannot have a situation in a year's time in which we find that the motor insurance industry has made exorbitant profits over the course of the year. That could happen. It is something that cannot be allowed to happen. An industry is entitled to be sustainable. However, an industry is not entitled to make crazy profits on the back of ordinary citizens.
I spoke to an older person last week. I will not call him an old age pensioner. His car insurance had increased from €700 to €1,200 overnight. That is replicated in many people we deal with. The problem is that the motor insurance industry is well used to manning the barricades, effectively dealing with pressure and taking the pressure. People then peel away and the companies charge the higher rates. I for one will not allow that to happen. We want the liquidators of Setanta to come before the finance committee. I hope they will accept that request. I would like the Minister for Finance to come before this House so that we can once again deal with an updated situation as to what exactly is the position regarding the regulation of the motor insurance industry. I have serious misgivings that embedded in the rates they are currently charging is super-profit. I do not want to look back in a year or two and find that was the case.
I have two brief items to bring to the attention of the Leader. They both relate to tourism, which as Members know is a huge contributor to the economy. In today's edition of The Irish Times, I note that the mandarins in the Department of Finance have approached the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, with a proposal to abolish the 9% VAT rate in the hospitality sector. The 9% VAT rate has been a huge boost for tourism for the hoteliers, restaurateurs and so on since it was introduced in 2011. We always understood that it could not last forever. However, this is certainly not the time to remove it. The indications so far of Brexit, particularly, and to a lesser extent the isolationist policies of the Trump Administration, are that tourism numbers are falling. I pointed out in a previous debate in the House that UK visitor numbers for the first quarter of this year are down by 7%. Anybody from the tourism counties such as Kerry or Dublin will know anecdotally that this is happening. The figures are now stacking up to prove it. Therefore, I believe this is most unfortunate timing.
When I raised this issue before, Members rightly pointed out that there is a lot of underpaying and unsatisfactory pay levels at the low levels of the tourism sector. I am in full agreement with those comments and I do not want to stand over anything like that. However, we must remember that a lot of our hoteliers are ploughing their profits back into refurbishing their hotels and bars on a regular basis. There are hotels in Kerry that are demolished and recreated every number of years. That is why we are there offering facilities. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to address that issue when he is next in the House.
It was very disappointing to read that in a surveillance operation, the Garda detected a number of taxi drivers cheating their customers by taking scenic routes to prime destinations, such as from the city centre to the airport.
The fare for the journey from the city centre to the airport should not vary, or perhaps only by a couple of euro, depending on traffic conditions and so on. However, some of the drivers in question were charging up to double the normal fare. A small number were caught, but one suspects there are many more doing it. I raised the matter of taxi services in the House previously. No doubt, 99% of taxi drivers are decent and doing a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. However, there are rogues who do not know their job properly and do not care. There are drivers with dirty cabs. There are also drivers who do not have a word of English.
The Senator should not say that.
There are drivers who have to use a satnav to get a person from here to the GPO.
Why use a satnav around Dublin?
I do not know. A driver had to use one to get me from here to the GPO and he could not understand a word I was saying.
He has a difficulty in finding banks.
I do not know what my colleague is trying to say, but I stand over what I am saying. Certainly, 90% of taxi drivers provide a good service, but clearly there are bad eggs. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to get in touch with the taxi regulator. We had this debate a number of years ago and it is time we reopened it.
I join my colleagues who have objected to Irish military involvement in Operation Sophia. It is an erosion of our neutrality by stealth. It is a disgrace that the legislation is being introduced in the other House and I hope it will be roundly defeated.
It is not good practice to rush a Bill through all Stages and I have always maintained this position. It is true of the Rugby World Cup Bill. I used to play rugby, but I would not now turn over in bed to watch a game of rugby or any other sport. I am not interested in watching them, but I understand there are people who are. I do not see any reason the Government should underwrite the bid to the tune of €200 million or spend €143 million on some other aspect of it. Why should the taxpayer pay? I do not see the logic in it. In any case, it is bad practice to rush a Bill through all Stages in one day. It is just a last minute intervention by the Minister with responsibility for tourism, trade and transport.
He also has responsibility for sport.
Did I not say "sport"? I apologise. As Marian Finucane says, "and whatever you're having yourself."
I refer to the proposed legislation relating to the opt-out from organ donation. This matter has been debated time and again during the past five years and it is my understanding the legislation was to be introduced some time ago. I now understand it is going through the Cabinet. Has the Leader received any indication of the likely time when it will be introduced? The legislation is important, as we are way behind other jurisdictions when it comes to organ transplants. The idea behind the legislation is that people would have to register to opt out. I am raising this issue because the number on dialysis continues to increase and it represents a major cost to the State. On average, a person has to attend hospital on at least three occasions each week. There are over 250,000 attendances per annum. If there were more kidney transplants, the number of occasions on which people would have to attend hospital for dialysis would reduce drastically. Will the Leader outline to Senators whether it will be September or October before we are likely to see the legislation?
Will the Leader indicate whether there is any proposal to sit during the month of August?
In particular, the leader of the Fianna Fáil group might clarify the matter on the basis that on previous occasions, before the Leader's time, we were asked to come back in the middle of August. Has the Leader received any indication from any Member that we should sit during the month of August to discuss any matter?
Sílim gur smaoineamh an-mhaith é sin. Má tá chuile dhuine eile sa tír ag obair an méid sin seachtainí sa bhliain, ní fheicim cén fáth nach mbeadh muid ag obair níos faide.
I commend Senator Kelleher in particular on the Bill being brought forward and wholeheartedly support it. It is very important. We had a lot of razzmatazz and-----
Is the Senator seconding the amendment?
I am not. I think it has been seconded already, but I am happy to do that if it has not.
I understand it has not been seconded.
I happily second the amendment to the Order of Business.
I was going to second it before the end of the Order of Business.
Sorry, Senator. You can only speak once. I am advised you should have done it when you spoke earlier.
I was not aware of that.
It has been seconded.
We had a lot of razzmatazz about the visit of President Trudeau last week, with the Taoiseach, the socks, the jogging, etc. I know the issue of the Irish in Canada and across the globe would have been raised.
I had a meeting yesterday with Ciaran Staunton from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, who told me there are still great frustrations about a lack of movement by the Government on quite a number of proposals that would have been in the diaspora policy, which was spearheaded at the time by the then Minister, Deputy Deenihan. He told me there are huge frustrations about difficulty people have in getting access to driver licences, which is causing very practical problems for the undocumented in the US, but there are also issues around people who want to come back. A report on Irish citizens who would like to come back to Ireland was to have been produced and published by the Department, but still has not been seen.
I note also there has been very little talk about presidential voting rights since the new Taoiseach took office. There are rumblings around the House that he is not in favour of it and that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, whose Department would be overseeing the organisation of the register of electors, is not a great supporter of it. I would like the Leader to clarify if Government policy on presidential voting rights has changed. Could we have the relevant Minister in the House as soon as possible to discuss the diaspora issues, but also the issues of presidential voting rights, the progress that has been made in recent months to push towards that referendum, and when we can expect to see it? It is important that we send a signal to our Irish citizens abroad that the Government is serious about this issue, that it is being moved forward and that they will see it within the near future.
I want to speak about the Citizens' Assembly, which met this weekend, in terms of elderly people. I have had many concerns expressed in my clinic by people who had to retire at 65. They then claim jobseeker's benefit from the Department of Social Welfare, which is €188. However, until they actually turn 65 and transfer to the old age pension, which is €230, they are at the loss of €42. That is unacceptable.
The decision by the Citizens' Assembly at the weekend, which was unanimous, was that elderly people should be given the option to retire. Those of us in this House need to address that. Some people might want to retire, but others might not. We are living longer. Our population is growing, so we need to give people that chance. The Minister should come into the House and address this issue. When the Citizens' Assembly addressed it, its members knew how serious it was because people are at the loss of a lot of money in the year they turn from 65 to 66. That is crucial. When people work all their life, they are entitled to their entitlements.
I raise the issue of boundaries. In my area late last week, there was an accident on the Portlaoise Road, which is on the Carlow-Laois boundary. When the elderly gentleman rang Carlow Garda station, he was told he had to ring Abbeyleix Garda station, which is nearly an hour away. He was told by the person in Abbeyleix that there was only one Garda car available, which was in Errill, in Tipperary. It arrived three hours after the accident. The car the lady was in was written off. A garda did not come for three hours by which time there was a long backlog of traffic. There should be co-operation among all Garda stations. If an accident occurs within two minutes of a Garda station, the gardaí at that station should attend the accident. An elderly man had to direct traffic for nearly two hours. That is unacceptable. I call on the Minister to address that issue.
What Senator Murnane O'Connor has said is very important. I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people to address this Chamber soon, perhaps addressing the Senator's issue as well as the one I raise now, which is that recent reports have continued to highlight stories of vulnerable or dependent older people who are being financially abused, very often by a family member, a relative or others they know who exert pressure on them and take their money or possessions.
A recent survey by the National Safeguarding Committee showed that financial abuse, along with psychological and physical abuse, is a significant problem affecting people aged over 65. It would be good to hear what the Minister intends to do to ensure older people are protected from the risks associated with financial abuse and how his Department is working with other State bodies to combat it.
New data from census 2016, published in mid-June-----
I remind the Senator that there is Private Members' legislation before the House on that matter.
Yes, but I believe the specific issue I am raising should be addressed in more detail by the Minister. New data from census 2016, published in mid-June, show there has been a 19% increase in the number of retired people in the country since 2011. This amounts to over 500,000 people. Retirees have spent their whole working lives investing in their families, communities and country. The State needs to be more proactive in supporting these retirees in future years, in particular to prevent financial abuse of those who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged in later life.
I call on staff working in financial institutions to act promptly if they suspect their older customers are being exploited through various transactions and also to act with more consideration towards older persons. The banks are altering their business models, eliminating cash and coin services and also cheque services if they get their way. They are often acting in major disregard of sections of the community. I do not wish to generalise too much but I have had the experience of dealing with retired persons who are utterly frustrated as they try to pay for their health insurance, for example. They are told cheques are not accepted anymore. The world is moving on according to a particular idea of the common good but it tends to be a very self-centred business and commercial idea of the common good. We have all been in banks where we have seen officials trying to answer the queries of an increasingly bewildered group who find the banks are just not receptive to their needs or attentive to them. We are dealing with an older population that is set to grow substantially. It does not comprise older persons exclusively but there is to be a rise from 12%, the current percentage of the population, to 22% by 2041. This is an issue for the upcoming Private Members' business but a wider discussion is needed in the House so we can pay attention to the issues in their entirety.
I express my condolences on yesterday's tragedy in the Kimmage area of Dublin South-Central. Councillor McHugh is on the ground there since yesterday assisting the shocked, bereaved community.
The State's baby boom saw almost 64,000 live births recorded in 2016. That is 1.3 births per 1,000 members of the population, which means the highest natural rise in Europe. We have the lowest death rate, at 6.4 deaths per 1,000. We must be doing something right for the older person. In 2003, there was a population of 3.9 million, and this rose to 4.7 million last year. In the next decade, it is predicted there will be an extra million. We will number nearly 6 million but, taking in the North, there will be 8 million in total. If this trend continues, our working population will begin to struggle. We will not be able to provide essential services for the young and old, and we will have a complete breakdown of the inter-generational social contract.
The report that emerged yesterday allows us to consider a new perspective on two particular aspects of health care services, one being maternity care and the other being the care of older people. With regard to maternity care, the midwives of Ireland, my Sinn Féin colleagues and I have been calling for the full implementation of the national maternity strategy so all maternity hospitals meet the Birthrate Plus standard.
With regard to the care of older people, I commend my colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin on his submission entitled "How we best respond to the Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population". It outlines what I describe. Pockets of knowledge on the facets of the problem of our baby boom and the ageing population are not enough. We must have a frank, clear and co-ordinated strategic response to our changing population so we can address issues such as health care, a possible deficit in the workforce, and the increasing demand for care for the elderly.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to the Chamber to discuss these issues which will have a massive impact on us in the future?
I commend the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his handling of the important hearings of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee into mental health services which took place here over the past several Thursdays. As a member of the committee, I would also like to pay tribute to Senator Freeman. The engagement was positive. Hearing some of the challenges and difficulties, as well as the harrowing stories of what people have had to go through in respect of the health service, was difficult. In many ways, it is not serving us, in spite of all the resources pumped into it. It was an excellent exercise in what this Chamber can achieve.
The report from these hearings, no more than other reports the Seanad Public Consultation Committee has issued, such as the one on farm safety in which I was heavily involved, will have an impact.
I also commend the new Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, on his initiative in setting up an Oireachtas committee on mental health. In due course, we might get the new Minister of State to talk to us on the specifics of what he hopes this new Oireachtas committee on mental health will achieve. It is a new initiative which is useful. Now this Chamber has begun the conversation on mental health, albeit part of our report, we should continue that public engagement in the Seanad Chamber because it is an extremely important issue.
I hope the Leader will join with me in wishing Carl Corcoran, presenter of RTE Lyric FM's, "The Blue of the Night", greetings and well wishes as he departs his show, bringing to a conclusion a journey of almost ten years and beginning a new journey of future exciting musical challenges. If "The Blue of the Night" is anything to go by, Carl is an experienced musician, songwriter and promoter. He has introduced me, and wider audiences, to diverse Irish and international audiences. His penultimate show takes place this evening but the show will continue throughout the summer with guest presenters.
In The Journal of Music, Carl Corcoran said:
It has been an honour to have been the conduit for the enjoyment and discovery of a wide range of repertoire - and to provide a platform for new music and new artists, both Irish and international - a task that I embraced with a passion … It is with sadness that I vacate the late-night seat but I look forward to moving on to various other projects within the music and broadcasting community and network. It’s not retirement - it’s a transition and an exciting journey.
I know Seanad Éireann will join me in thanking Carl Corcoran for his public service on RTE Lyric FM and wishing him well.
I regret bringing us down from such high culture to a much more unfortunate topic. I want to draw the Leader’s and colleagues’ attention to the monstrosities being inflicted on communities across the North, quite substantially focused in and around the greater Belfast area. These monstrosities I refer to are often referred to as bonfires. They are more often than not referred to as expressions of culture. There is no doubt for many people in the Protestant, unionist and loyalist tradition in Ireland that they hold a dear and important place in their hearts as an expression of culture. We all know the longer traditional role of bonfires in our own Gaelic and pagan heritage on this island, as well as their symbolic importance and what they represented.
What we have seen manifested in the streets over the past several years, however, really cannot be described than anything else than hate crimes. We have seen effigies, the Irish national flag and other flags placed on these bonfires. We have seen election posters placed on these bonfires, including one of our own Senator Rose Conway-Walsh. They had to go all the way to Mayo to get that poster.
I am not raising this issue to be facetious or confrontational on the matter.
The reason I raise it here in this Chamber is because, over today, tomorrow and the longer summer months, officials from the Irish Government will be engaging with the PSNI and with loyalist and republican communities in regard to contentious parades. It is vitally important that officials from the Irish Government say to the loyalist representatives who they are dealing with, because, unfortunately, unionist politicians have gone to ground, that this is not good enough. It is not good enough to engage with the Irish Government, receive funding from the Irish Government for community and reconciliation projects but then go and burn the Irish national flag and try to pass that off as culture. It is not culture, it is anti-culture. It is hate crime. It is important that the PSNI treat it accordingly and that a clear loud message goes from this House that the Members of the Oireachtas are encouraging officials from the Irish Government who are responsible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, that we are watching, that we do not think it is acceptable or tolerable in 2017 and that the PSNI should act.
In case I do not get the chance, I wish County Down all the very best in the Ulster final on Sunday - a real expression of culture.
I thank Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile. Does Senator Feighan want to say something?
I would like to congratulate Roscommon on winning the Connacht final, if that is okay.
Maybe it is time to call on the Leader-----
We could be playing Down in the all-Ireland.
With respect, it is time to call on the Leader to respond.
I thank the 21 Members of the House for their contributions.
I will begin by joining the Senators in offering our condolences to the family of the young child tragically killed in Kimmage. I hope and pray that the mother of that child who herself was attacked is on the road to recovery. It is important we recognise there is an investigation ongoing. I extend our sympathies to the families involved.
Senators Ardagh, Craughwell, Gallagher, Gavan, Nash and Norris raised matters regarding the Defence Forces. There are two parts to it. First, I will put on the record of the House that in the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, we have a Minister with responsibility for Defence who is very proactive, who is very engaged and who takes immense pride in his job as Minister of State with responsibility for Defence and in the Defence Forces themselves, and I thank him for that. It is important also that I put on record today in this House that each one of us understands, acknowledges and pays tribute to the men and women of the Defence Forces and, in recognising the immense work they do both at home and abroad, it is important that we see a continuation of the rights and conditions of employment, and residency, of members of the Defence Forces.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, is meeting representative associations this week. The Minister of State has also been actively involved with the management of the Defence Forces. As Members will be fully aware, pay restoration is continuing for members of the public service and, as Senator Craughwell knows well, public sector pay is governed by collective agreement, negotiation and bargaining, and PDFORRA signed up to that. On living conditions, we have seen an increase in funding for capital investment and I accept that there is much to do and there is a journey to take.
The Defence Forces Chief of Staff received Government approval for participation in Operation Sophia. As Members will be aware, Operation Sophia is subject to the triple lock. Tomorrow, in Dáil Éireann, there will be a debate on the matter. It would have no effect on our neutrality whatsoever. It is a UN-mandated operation. To reassure Senator Craughwell and other Members who have raised it, it is UN-mandated, it receives Government approval and Dáil approval.
I have put in a request to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to come to the House.
While he is not available today or tomorrow, I am endeavouring to have the Minister of State come to the House next week. I ask Senator Craughwell in the context of his amendment to allow me to try to have the Minister of State come to the House next week. It is fair to say the report issued is one we must all take seriously, but as the Senator knows, Operation Sophia was launched in June 2015 as part of the EU's broader action to provide a bigger and broader European response to the issue of migration and the refugee crisis. We have seen the way our Defence Forces, in the deployment to the Mediterranean, have operated and saved so many lives. With the Senator's indulgence, if he will allow me to try to endeavour to have the Minister come to the House, I will do that next week.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of the Women's Homelessness in Europe report. We should not take solace in any report that either highlights, admonishes or calls for more action regarding the issue of homelessness. The Government has prioritised Rebuilding Ireland. It is the platform on which Ireland will tackle its housing crisis. We all accept that Rebuilding Ireland will take time, but in saying that, it is also worth outlining to the House that we have seen 830 families exit from commercial hotels and bed and breakfasts, and 405 families have been prevented from entering these types of arrangements. It is important to recognise that under this Government, we have seen domestic violence legislation, which has prioritised the personal safety of women over property, and we have seen the issue of barring orders being changed. I accept, as Senator Devine also referenced with regard to the national maternity strategy, there is a journey to take.
The Government is committed to Rebuilding Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has allocated a further €10 million for additional family hubs to be provided, which will allow for 200 families to be accommodated. All of us aspire to and want to reach a situation where nobody is homeless or living in a hotel or bed and breakfast. While the figures remain stubbornly high, this is a priority for Government. It is the only Department with a multi-annual budget. It has had the largest amount of money ever allocated for the provision of housing. That is the Government's priority. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, at the behest of the Taoiseach, is carrying out a review of aspects of Rebuilding Ireland, and if changes need to be made, he will make them. We will certainly have the debate again in the autumn, but I would certainly be happy to have the Minister apprise us of the situation in the House.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the summer economic statement. It is my intention to provide for a debate next week in the House with regard to the summer economic statement. The Government is committed to ensuring that we have a mix of prudent management of the economy with a relief on taxation and investment in infrastructure. The fiscal strategy of the Government is very transparent, as outlined by the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and previously by the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan. I look forward to that debate next week in the House. The summer economic statement will be the central plank of the reformed budgetary process, providing a policy background for discussion of options in advance of the budget, and it would be an opportunity for Members of this House to have their budgetary provisions tested, costed and debated. I look forward to seeing the figures from Sinn Féin and its taxation policy coming under scrutiny.
Ours? What about the Senator's partners?
I cannot wait to see how Sinn Féin balances the books.
It is better than the Senator's.
It will all be fully costed.
We are confident.
I know that Aladdin's cave is sometimes a great place to be, but the Senator cannot keep writing to Santa every year. It is a question of being responsible as well.
On a point of order, Senator Buttimer has gone off subject.
Senator Devine has a point of order.
That did not arise as a subject. The Senator just likes to get a dig in every now and then.
I ask Senator Devine for order.
Senator Buttimer is a bit defensive about our budgetary submission, which is excellent, if I may say so.
I ask Senator Devine for order. I am afraid that while her smile is appealing, that is not a point of order.
I am amused at the defensive nature of Senator Devine.
Me thinks she doth protest too much. For the Senator's information, her party leader raised the summer economic statement and I am replying to that.
We cannot discuss that now.
I am replying to that. She also referred to a number of issues to which I am also replying. If my reply does not suit her, that is not for me to say but I look forward to her party having its costed economic proposals-----
They are always costed.
They are held to account.
I know the Senator's party is a high tax party and it tries to play the card for everybody.
Some day, the three card trick does not work.
It is just for the many not the few.
They will be a bit like the fellows in Cahirmee this week. They will get caught out sometime.
We look forward to their fiscal projections and seeing how they can balance the books-----
Oh my God.
-----while at the same time, continuing the Government's great economic policy of having more people back at work, something the Sinn Féin Members have never congratulated us on.
The Leader should not point his finger at me.
Something they have never done.
We will have that debate another day, please, Leader.
I look forward to that.
Congratulations to the Leader if he is hurting.
Now, now, Senator Craughwell.
I will accept Senator Kelleher's proposal. Senator Gallagher raised GP cover for rural areas. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. The ten-year health strategy has been published and we will have to wait for a debate on that. We need to look at how we can change the health landscape in the context of an evolving Ireland. A new Department responsible for rural Ireland is being created and that is something we can also debate.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of family carers, and commended them on their tremendous work in keeping more people at home. I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, came to the House to discuss this.
Senator Black mentioned Cumann Lúthchleas Gael's decision to give rights to Sky for some of its matches. That is a debate that must return to. I am a member of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and was on its marketing committee when we looked at all matters related to the GAA. It is regrettable that we are in a situation where some matches are not on terrestrial television. It means a smaller audience is able to watch it. I accept the GAA needs to be able to make money on a commercial basis, but it is regrettable that some of the championship matches, such as the one between Waterford and Kilkenny last Saturday night, were unavailable to people. It is something the GAA will return to. Senator Black also referred to people having to go to public houses or other places where alcohol is served in order to see the games. Having venues where no alcohol is sold is something that we might look at as a society. I appreciate Senator Black has been a champion in this House of alternatives to alcohol.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is in Israel this week and is not available but I would be happy to have that debate as soon as possible.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the motor insurance industry. He made a good point that the industry is good at fobbing people off, and wearing them down until they pay a higher price. When he was Minister of State in the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, had action points arising from the working group on insurance. Senator O'Donnell is correct that there needs to be fair play from the insurance companies and we must ensure that they are held to account.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the report this morning about the tourism industry which enjoys a 9% VAT rate. The Senator knows it was a catalyst in terms of kick-starting the economy and it was put in place by the last Government. It led to significant growth in employment and allowed for an increase in visitor numbers. She is partly correct that because of Brexit and the policies of President Trump visitor numbers have fallen but we must also ask if we are giving value for money. In this city, there has been an exponential increase in prices for accommodation and food.
On certain occasions all over the country there is a rip-off of people on the cost of hotel beds, whether it be for a concert, a match or whatever else. I will have no difficulty in scheduling a debate on the abuse that takes place in the hospitality industry. It is important, however, that we have a wider debate, as the Senator rightly said, with reference to the small hotelier, small restaurateur and the small shopkeeper who do not exploit or try to take advantage of such events. This is about ensuring a just and fair price. It is regrettable if a minority rip off customers. I would never want us to return to the days of rip-off Ireland when people were charged an arm and a leg to stay in certain hotels. I acknowledge that the Senator shares this view and hope we can the debate the issue in discussing the summer economic statement next week.
The Senator was also correct to highlight the activities of rogue taxi drivers who, although in a minority, charge excess fares. We must give credit to the majority of taxi drivers who provide an excellent service for charging a fair and just fee.
Senator David Norris made reference to the Rugby World Cup. As he will be well aware, it is not the form of this Leader to ram Bills through the House and debate all Stages at once, but this legislation is important for us a nation. In the context of what happened last weekend in New Zealand and the IRFU being an all-Ireland body, under which we can all play similar to Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, it is imperative that we support the bid to host the Rugby World Cup. I am happy to support it and every Member should do so. As I said, it is not the norm to take all Stages of a Bill at once, but this is exceptional.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of organ donation. With me, he was an important member of the previous health committee which recommended legislative change on the issue. I very much herald the announcement made by the Minister for Health-----
As was former Senator Fergal Quinn.
He was not a member of the committee.
He brought forward a Private Members' Bill.
I acknowledge that, but the committee I chaired, of which Senator Colm Burke was a member, did some significant work.
Yes, for which great credit is due to it.
It is important that a policy change take place. It is my understanding the Minister was to bring the Bill to the Cabinet this morning. I would welcome the putting in place of the infrastructure to see the legislation passed. As Senator Colm Burke rightly said, there has been an increase in the number on dialysis. Costs have also increased.
I reassure Members that it is not my intention to bring them back in August. Perhaps Fianna Fáil Members might put a gag on Senator Mark Daly in that month-----
My recall motion was related to the issue of organ donation and it made a difference.
-----or send him to Hawaii or Inishvickillane where he could reflect on the political world.
That is outrageous.
I am glad that I changed Government policy.
I do not want Members to be brought back in August.
I do not know if we would have a place to sit.
I am not sure it would be in the interests of our health and well-being.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to voting rights in presidential elections. To the best of my knowledge, Government policy has not changed. To his credit, the Taoiseach has appointed Deputy Ciarán Cannon as Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora to continue the work of the previous Ministers of State, Deputy Joe McHugh and former Deputy Jimmy Deenihan. Ours was the first Government to appoint a Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. In addition, the Taoiseach has appointed Deputy John Deasy as a special envoy to the US Congress, with a particular focus on issues related to the undocumented Irish in the United States. The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, appointed our good friend and colleague, Senator Billy Lawless, as a representative also. Good and positive energy is developing. To be fair to Senator Mark Daly, he has been influential and very involved. It is important that all Members, in working with the Government, raise the issue of the undocumented Irish and address the fear expressed in the recent RTE documentary and as articulated eloquently by Senator Billy Lawless in the House on many occasions. We have a duty to ensure immigration reform in the United States. It is a difficult time to try to achieve it, but it is important that we work collectively to ensure a result.
Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor referred to the Citizens' Assembly. I was happy when the Fine Gael LGBT group made a submission on the need to support the elderly, given that people are living longer.
The Senator raises a good point and we will have that debate in the House. Garda Síochána operational matters are a matter for the Garda and I will not get into the matter the Senator raised. It is important for common sense to apply to how people respond to accidents.
Senator Máire Devine also raised the issue of maternity services and our ageing population. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is committed to the implementation of the national maternity strategy. It is important we recognise the importance of our elders, the contribution they have made to society and the need for all of us to make sure there is proper policy around that.
Senator Mullen made reference to our elderly and the issue of them dealing with banks, financial services and a compendium of other bodies. I agree with the Senator that it is the pace of change that is frightening people rather than the change itself. For me, going into a teller-free bank is a daunting enough proposition but for people who are elderly trying to navigate the machines, punching in codes or numbers, whether a VHI number or telephone number, is off-putting. There is an obligation on the banks and other companies to slow down a small bit and work with people to give them an opportunity to participate. Our elders are very willing to accept and embrace change but it is the pace of change, which the Senator makes reference to, that is an issue. I fully agree with Senator Mullen. There are a number of banks in Cork city where there are no cashiers and there are others where, when people walk in, they are ushered to a machine. It is important. It is equally as off-putting when one dials a number and has to push button one, button two, button three and before one gets to button four, one is back to button one. It is hard for people who are trying to navigate. It is important that people communicate and do so with sensitivity. I accept the Senator's point on that.
Senator Conway made reference to the issue of mental health. I commend the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his stewardship of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and thank all Members who participated on it. I missed last week's meeting but from reading the testimonies in the reports and coverage it was a very worthwhile exercise. We look forward to the report coming forward. Any work on a cross-party basis to promote mental health and to have a platform with a blueprint or roadmap arising from it is welcome. There is a proposal to come before the Dáil business committee which will come to our CPP. I look forward to all of us in the House embracing it because the issue of mental health is one that transcends all political parties and all socioeconomic classes and which affects all parts of the country. It is by working together that we can bring about change. That is for the common good.
Senator Warfield referenced the impending retirement and departure of Carl Corcoran. I join with the Senator in congratulating and thanking him for his decade long tenure in promoting new Irish artists and international artists. The work being done by him and other presenters - I am thinking of John Creedon on RTE Radio 1 - illustrates the importance of the licence fee that is being collected by the State. All of us wish Carl Corcoran of "The Blue of the Night" well. I will digress for a moment and also wish Marcus Connaughton well. He retired as the presenter of the "Seascapes" programme which was another example of excellent public service broadcasting for the maritime community.
Senator Ó Donnghaile made reference to tomorrow being 12 July and the bonfires that will be lit in the North of our country. We do not support the burning of effigies or flags but, in recognising the traditions in the North of our country, it is important that we all mutually respect each other and live together. That has always been my practice as a Member of this House and as somebody who aspires to a United Ireland. We must recognise the importance of both traditions but it is important that there is meaningful engagement regarding talks around flags and parades by all sides. That is why I hope we will see a return to devolved Government in the North as soon as possible.
I thank Senator Feighan and Ó Donnghaile for congratulating Roscommon and wishing Down well.
I want to commend the Cork hurlers for last Sunday as well.
Up the Rebels.
If Senator Craughwell will accept my bona fides, I will endeavour to get a date from the Minister in regard to his request.
In reply to the Leader-----
I will call the Senator shortly. He is jumping the gun. Senator Craughwell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, having regard to the policy of neutrality, on the nature of the role of the Naval Service in Operation Sophia be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
I really want the Minister of State in here but I will not play politics with this as it is too important. I find it deeply regrettable that when the Leader answers these issues, he takes every opportunity to defend the Minister and the Government, which is rather sad.
Senator, I am merely asking if you are pressing the amendment.
I am prepared to agree with the Leader and defer it until next week but I want it dealt with next week.
It is withdrawn by leave of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Colette Kelleher has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 16 be taken before No. 1". The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.