The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on school transport, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, motion re the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with the time allocated to Senator Neale Richmond when moving the motion not to exceed six minutes, the contribution of the Minister not to exceed 12 minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. Senator Richmond will be given three minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 39, motion 23, Private Members' business, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I ask the Government to be cognisant in the forthcoming budget of the financial struggles that will be placed on hard-pressed families come September. They will be hit with a three-pronged attack of massive price hikes to basic services. There will be higher electricity charges, higher waste charges for those unable to recycle, and back to school expenses. The hike in electricity costs will be caused by the Government's public service obligation levy, which will result in an increase in bills. Will the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment consider blocking or decreasing this increase? Will he also ask service providers to insert an affordability clause into their contracts? I mentioned previously that the Minister is sitting on a report on the implementation of a national waiver scheme for waste charges. I ask the House to call on him to publish the report without delay.
The second issue I would like to raise, which I raise at least once a week, is the housing crisis and the property bubble. In particular, I refer to the use of family hubs in Dublin. We are witnessing a frenzy again in the property market. Buzz words such as "gazumping" are being bandied about again for the first time since the Celtic tiger era. Prices jumped by 12% between January and May with an unprecedented hike in April, according to recent housing reports. There are serious concerns about history repeating itself with another property bubble given the inflated house prices. This is ultimately caused by the big white elephant in the room, which is supply. The Government needs to urgently bring in measures to reduce VAT, streamline and cut the cost of building regulations and development levies, and introduce a "use it or lose it" tax. Yesterday, I mentioned our feminised homeless population and today I would like to flag my concerns about the use of family hubs in Dublin to house our homeless families. I envisage these hubs to be the direct provision centres of the future in which we house our own citizens. I do not agree with this policy. We are creating mini-ghettos where mothers are unable to dictate the pace of their child's development with no privacy, autonomy, or basic ability to provide a home cooked meal for their child. It is envisaged that families will spend more than three months in these hubs. This is unrealistic given our huge supply issue. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to act expediently on this matter and on the supply issue in the State.
Will the Leader seek clarification from the Government regarding the judicial council? All of today's national newspapers report on the Government's plan for a three-person group to recommend the next Chief Justice. The current Chief Justice, Ms Susan Denham, will retire in the next month or so. She has consistently called for a judicial council during her time in the post. Lost in the great debate about the Judiciary, judicial appointments and the proposed commission has been the bigger issue, which is the judicial council. My first Private Members' motion related to the appointment of a council. The then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, made a commitment to establish an independent council. She stated: "It is what the Judiciary want. It will deal with education, training, governance, compliance with governance, discipline and various appropriate issues relating to the Judiciary." Surely this has become lost in the wider debate about how judges should be appointed.
It has got lost in the debate on who is to be a judge, whether decided by independent recommendation or otherwise. I do not want to dwell too much on that. Suffice it to say, the independence of the Judiciary is a central tenet to our democracy and is very important. When the then Chief Justice in 2000, Mr. Justice Ronan Keane, undertook to do a report to deal with the various issues, he made various recommendations. In 2010, Dermot Ahern, the then Minister for Justice, introduced a general scheme for a Bill for the judicial council. It was proposed that this judicial council would deal with excellence and the exercising of judges' judicial functions. It would ensure high standards of conduct among judges, it would deal with effective and efficient ways of use of judicial resources and it would continue ongoing training among the Judiciary.
I will wrap up by saying that in an article published in October 2016, which I again considered this morning, in the Law Society of Ireland Gazette, Chief Justice Susan Denham said the lack of action in establishing a judicial council was “a matter of real concern, both for the Judiciary and the State". As this Chief Justice leaves office, I think it appropriate and befitting that we highlight again her call for a judicial council and that the Government recommits itself, or at least say initially if it is still committed, to the introduction of a judicial council. This House, Seanad Éireann, passed a motion calling on the Government to do so. The Minister of the day gave a commitment that a Bill would be brought before the House within weeks. Nothing has happened. It is disappointing. Let us not lose sight of the objectives and the mission of a judicial council and what it sets out to do. Remember that it has the full support of the Judiciary. It has our support in this House, as we demonstrated last year. Let us have the Government come into this House after the recess and explain where this potential Bill is now.
I congratulate Ms Aoibhe Carrabine from the Geesala Boxing Club for her wonderful win in the European championships. She is a wonderful young woman from Bangor Erris who is a credit to her family, club, county and her country. I wish her well for the future and congratulate the other five medal-winners at the European women's youth and junior championships. I also congratulate the volunteers in the Geesala Boxing Club and, indeed, all the boxing clubs involved for their dedication to the development of young people so that they can reach their true potential. This volunteerism brings out the best in communities and creates a spirit of togetherness, equality and excitement in these communities.
On the other hand, I condemn those who put a coffin bearing the image of the late Martin McGuinness on an east Belfast bonfire. This is a blatant display of hatred and bigotry which propagates sectarian divisions in our country. If there is one thing that Martin McGuinness showed us, it was how to accept and embrace those with different opinions, creeds and cultures from ours. He showed us the importance of reaching out and of the reconciliation phase of the peace process. It is not acceptable that unionist politicians fail to show leadership in refusing to condemn this hate crime. Through being guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement the British Government and Irish Government have a legal obligation to ensure that the elements of that Agreement and other agreements are fulfilled, because it serves to tackle all these hate crimes. I hope also that those in the South who make little and seek to score cheap political points on the back of Sinn Féin's insistence on equality and parity of esteem in underpinning the political institutions will now have a deeper understanding that these political institutions cannot hope to serve the people of the North if they are built on a sandpit of inequality and sectarianism.
We must take the lead from Emmett McGuinness who tweeted last night that he was very thankful that he was raised by parents who taught him never to hate anyone or anything, and that Michelle O'Neill was right in saying that the annual display of hate must end.
I request that the Taoiseach come into the House next week to discuss his vision and plans for Seanad reform. As we are the only House sitting next week, it is a perfect opportunity for him to discuss the long-promised reform for this House.
I hope he can accommodate us in that, because it is not just the Sinn Féin Party that wants to see this reform on the agenda. I know the Independent group and many individual Senators within this House want to see it. There is an opportunity for the Taoiseach to come to the House next week and I hope that will be acceptable to the Leader.
I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 13 before No. 1. This is a simple Bill to provide for refugees to apply for members of their families to be reunited with them and for them enter and reside in the State. Given that there are 22 million refugees worldwide and with our commitment to support 4,000 by the end of 2017, this is a very important issue I hope the House will support.
I remind all Members that this evening we have our Labour Private Members' motion on equal access to education. I thank those who came to the briefing we hosted yesterday in the AV room with a number of speakers in support of the motion, including Professor Kathleen Lynch from University College Dublin, UCD, and representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, and the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education. Recall that the Cassells report on the future funding of third level education, which was published last year, recommended three options. Income-contingent loans was only one of those options. Another option which we would support is the option of a fully publicly-funded third level education system.
We are very disappointed to see amendments put down by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that appear to leave the door open to the loans option, which is our concern, and which has been so clearly criticised on the basis of evidence from elsewhere by USI, SIPTU, leading academics and others. We ask colleagues to support our motion this evening and reject the amendments. We are very disappointed to see those amendments. Professor Lynch spoke before about third level education and the concept of a publicly-funded third level education system as being as crucial to our society in the 21st century as publicly-funded secondary education was in the 20th century and publicly-funded primary education was in the 19th century. I ask Members to recall that and I thank those who will be supporting the motion.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the summer economic statement. I know it will be published today and that there has been a good deal of discussion about it already. It appears to be a missed opportunity for greater investment in capital infrastructure and, in particular, in housing infrastructure - I know others have spoken on that already - and on health, transport and education.
Finally, we ask for the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, to come into this House to clarify his comments about the Olympics. I understand that he is basking in the success of a Rugby World Cup potentially being held here, but I think we might all be concerned and do not want to see a stadium in Stepaside. A Garda station is probably enough.
There is room there for a stadium.
The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, might well be losing the run of himself. We might ask him for clarification on that.
I am sure the Senator will get that in due course.
I concur with Senator Conway-Walsh in condemning the actions at the bonfires last night. The pictures of the former Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, along with many other candidates from the SDLP and Sinn Féin on bonfires across Northern Ireland must be condemned. I will be raising this at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary in Kilkenny next Sunday. This is not in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I remember that we had a Love Ulster march here in 2006 and the gardaí were not in a position to arrest people, but three or four weeks later, after reviewing video evidence, they knocked on people's doors. There has to be video evidence of this and I urge the PSNI to be able to get to the bottom of this very sinister development when things calm down.
Senator Bacik rightly commented the issue surrounding the Olympics. I raised this important issue at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport today. We talk about how sport can be a unique opportunity to unite people, and it is a unique opportunity to showcase the island of Ireland. I stated this because the Durban Commonwealth Games have now been cancelled. There is a wonderful, unique opportunity for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will certainly be located in the United Kingdom, to be located in Northern Ireland. We can cross the Border and all lines with it. It is a great time to showcase the island of Ireland, with our facilities, including Croke Park, Windsor Park, Casement Park and the Aviva Stadium. I call on the Northern Ireland Executive, when it meets, to propose that the Commonwealth Games could be located in Northern Ireland.
What better showcase for the island of Ireland? It would be a great preview of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which we in the House supported yesterday. The dream of locating the Olympics on the island of Ireland could yet come to pass. This is a wonderful opportunity and we should embrace it.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to this House to initiate a debate on our seaside resorts. We are very fortunate in this country to have some of the finest, healthiest, cleanest and most natural beaches in the world. We have them right around the country, from Ballybunion to Salthill, from Bundoran to Skerries and right down to the Leader's native Cork. A debate on this matter is long overdue. For a long time Irish people regarded the local beach as a holiday venue. We are now in the era of cheap flights, however, and there is nothing we can do about our weather so people are now inclined to head for the Costa del Sol than somewhere like Ballybunion, for example.
It is time for us to initiate an action plan to enhance and promote Irish beach holidays. We could invest a lot more in the infrastructure of our beaches, along with a variety of activities such as swimming, walking, fishing, thalassotherapy, seaweed baths and so on. Some of this is happening already but it could be more co-ordinated. The days when day-trippers could be satisfied with periwinkles and seagrass are long gone. We have to do better than that now and I ask the Minister to examine this. It is a huge area and there could be substantial investment in it. We have many safe and well-known blue flag beaches in this country. Unfortunately we have a very short season, with many people trying to make enough profit in two and a half months to last them for the rest of the year. We frequently talk about giving aid to sectors like agriculture when they are in trouble, so why have I never heard much here about the people trying to eke out a living in our beach towns over the short summer season? Perhaps the Leader might organise something on that. It would be useful.
I read this morning in The Irish Times of Michael Hayes's "courageous apology" for the IRA bombings in Birmingham in 1976. How hollow that reads. How is that courageous? This man allowed six men to languish in jail for 16 years-----
-----and kept his mouth shut. He had, no doubt, colleagues who assisted him. This was an attack on a pub where people were enjoying a social evening. Many things happened during the Troubles but this was one of the most disgusting of all. What is even more disgusting, however, is that this hollow apology is now being seen as a somehow courageous act. What is courageous about it? Can he give the Birmingham Six back the 16 years he stole from them? Can he take back the hugely degrading treatment they suffered in prison? No, he cannot. This is disgusting. A man of courage would have gone over to England, handed himself in and told the authorities to let those six innocent men out because he was responsible for what happened.
When I saw the bonfires being prepared last night - every year these massive goddamn bonfires - I was able to understand why there was conflict in the North of Ireland and why it degenerated into what it did. What I cannot understand, however, is a coward like this, who comes out now when it is safe claiming that he is sorry and apologising to the relatives of the Birmingham victims. He did not apologise to the six men who spent 16 years of their lives in jail. I am sure that those men carry psychological damage today that nothing will ever repair. I want it put on the record that I detest the claim made in the article. Perhaps we could invite the Minister for Justice and Equality in for a short debate on this matter at some stage.
I rise today to welcome the good news that Limerick Institute of Technology was granted its requested planning permission this morning. The new €14 million development at Coonagh Cross will be great, not only for the students and teachers, but also for the greater Limerick area. This comes on top of the good news that the Department of Education and Skills announced during the week that €578,227 would be put towards electrical apprenticeships. It is great to see, not only the expansion of LIT, but also that the college has expanded into another part of Limerick city. A knock-on effect will be the creation of 134 construction jobs in the development of the building and a further 100 jobs upon its completion. This is to be welcomed. As we can see from announcements like this one, the Department is investing in education.
Ní minic a aontaím leis an Seanadóir Ardagh ach aontaím léi ar phointe amháin a d'ardaigh sí ar maidin. I agree with one point raised by Senator Ardagh. We are seeing a Fianna Fáil-style bubble in the property market once again. The recently released CSO figures showing that residential property prices have increased by 11.9% in the year up to May are startling. There is an 18.2% increase when we look at the figures for the west.
I find the statement by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission raising its concerns over the provision of emergency accommodation, with a particular focus on the development and use of family hubs, absolutely alarming. For a member of Fianna Fáil to have the audacity to condemn IHREC, when it was Fianna Fáil that designed and implemented the direct provision system, a system of therapeutic incarceration, is quite astounding.
That system needs to be dismantled. It is very worrying that this new system is being compared to direct provision. This morning's presentation by Dr. Rory Hearne and Dr. Mary Murphy of Maynooth University on their report, Investing in the Right to a Home: Housing, HAPs and Hubs, was very important. Whenever we raise housing issues in this House we are told of certain initiatives brought forward by the Government as steps forward in the right direction. What the report points to is that Government policy is actually regressive. It is actually creating more problems in its design than it is solving. Dr. Hearne and Dr. Murphy look at issues around HAP and judge that it is not a valid mechanism to meet the right to housing. They look at issues around the family hubs etc. and point to successive Governments' heavy reliance on the private sector to provide social housing as a factor contributing to the problems now facing the State.
They also told us this morning that this problem will definitely get worse. The crisis will disimprove unless we address the issues. We need to have the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in to this House as soon as possible. We need to examine this report, Investing in the Right to a Home: Housing, HAPs and Hubs, and have statements on it in the context of Government policy. The authors of this report state that Government policy is adding to the crisis rather than doing anything to solve it, and that is a very important debate for us to have here.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, on the current homelessness situation. Last night I was very upset by seeing on Twitter a young child talking about what it was like for her to experience homelessness. It was heartbreaking to see and this is one of the reasons I welcome this report. There is huge injustice in this country today. This is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but the reality is that we have children who are homeless and will not be sleeping in a home tonight. This is wrong. The report refers to:
...a core tension within Irish housing and economic policy - with policy trying to address the social housing crisis while encouraging and relying on the private market to deliver investment in housing. Absence of investment in social housing negates the housing rights of the most vulnerable in Ireland. We are not at the peak of the contemporary housing crisis and we expect the housing crisis to escalate over the next five years, a frightening scenario for many families and a scenario that should be unacceptable for Irish society and the Irish Government.
I ask that we get the Minister in here to talk about this unbelievable crisis.
I want to refer to the horrendous symbolism of placing an effigy of Martin McGuinness's coffin on a bonfire on a recent evening. I know the family very well and they are going through enough as it is. It is a hate crime that must be condemned and it should be condemned by our Minister for Foreign Affairs. He needs to do that, it is not right. What is going on up there is horrendous and something needs to be done about it.
I second Senator Kelleher's motion. If any Members missed the launch of the housing assistance report this morning, Senator Kelleher will hold a seminar tomorrow in Trinity College Dublin, at which Dr. Rory Hearne will speak. I encourage everyone to go to that.
I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of three councillors from Galway, Ollie Crowe, Michael Crowe and Peter Keane. They are most welcome.
I rise to discuss our agricultural industry and where we are going with it. It is of great importance to our country. We are in the middle of a nitrates review and it is very important for Ireland to ensure we have sufficient capacity to ensure our agricultural community can sustain its growth. Government policy has seen a major growth in dairy and beef but we need to press ahead. The nitrate review which happens every five years is in full swing. Between now and the end of October there will be EU proposals on our capacity to spread nitrates. I hope that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will take on board the proposal that we need to keep the current derogation for the future of our agriculture sector. This derogation is a key part of ensuring we can deliver policies such as FoodWise 2025 which is a real driver for the economy in rural areas. In my part of the world in Cork, there are more than 2,550 derogations, out of 7,000 in Ireland. A change to the derogation policy would have a dramatic impact on the agricultural community in Cork. I hope the Minister could come to the House, if not prior to the recess, then in the first weeks of September, so we can debate this vital issue for the agricultural community.
I join others who have referred to the disgusting images in Northern Ireland. Any culture built on hate is not a culture at all. Some of the racist and sectarian imagery on these bonfires is quite disturbing and a statement from the Irish Government to this effect would be welcome.
I praise Senator Ó Clochartaigh. It is refreshing to hear the questions of asylum seekers and homelessness raised simultaneously. In this country, when one raises the question of refugees or asylum seekers or related issues, one is often flooded with comments asking about the homeless from people who never have any interest in issues of homelessness otherwise. It is important that Senators in this House raise the two and note they are all part of the same social justice agenda.
There is an issue on which the Minister for Transport and Tourism, Deputy Ross, needs to come before us. It was raised on the radio this morning and relates to legislation that needs to be amended quickly. An issue arose in the court in Ballinasloe where an anomaly in the road traffic legislation emerged. It relates to the absence of the word "or" in the current legislation, which no doubt was an error when the Bill was amended. Under the previous Bill, if a garda intercepted someone they had to be guilty, or perceived to be guilty, of 1, 2 or 3 - I will not outline the offences - but in the current Bill the word "or" is missing, and the implication is that the individual must be guilty of all three offences before they can be arrested. This was accepted by the judge in Ballinasloe and has been referred to the High Court. A simple amendment by Government could solve this or else all traffic offences or drink driving offences will clog up the courts and it will be impossible to deal with these issues in the short term. A practical solution would be for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come here, propose an amendment himself in Government time to react to what happened in the Ballinasloe court and ensure that the courts are not clogged up. We can have another debate on his other Bill and matters around that but this is a practical measure that Senators could support and that would make a real difference in the legislative provisions that this House oversees.
Everyone knows people in their communities or families who are able to stay in the comfort of their own homes rather than a nursing home or hospital. Often only minor adjustments are required to allow this to happen but each day I encounter inordinate delays to home care packages. Six months ago, my Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Willie O'Dea, introduced legislation to provide for a statutory right to a home care package. The Government kicked this down the road for six months and we still have not seen this. I want to know where is this legislation and where is the priority? Last week we were asked to rush through and underwrite a bid for the Rugby World Cup, which I support 100%, but where is the same urgency to deal with the scandal of home care packages? This needs to be debated. The savage cuts in the past six years to housing adaptation grants for older people and people with disabilities, as well as mobility grants, is a scandal. In 2010, at the height of budgetary cuts, this area was protected. In 2010, the Exchequer provided approximately €77 million to local authorities for this vital work. This fell to about €36 million in 2014, causing some local councils to effectively close down the scheme. It has risen slightly in recent years. I read the press release from the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government when he announced €59.8 million for 2017 but the real figure from the Government is only €47 million, as the larger figure includes 20% local authority funding. We need more transparency. This is the type of creative accounting that was exposed in the banking inquiry. The Exchequer funding for 2017 is €30 million less than 2010. A sum of €30 million would help many families get wheelchair ramps, grab rails, hoists and other basic adaptations. We need to have a debate about this because, as local councillors will attest, funding remains too low. I have often said that the mark of a society is how we treat our old people, our sick and our young and our Government is failing in this regard.
I listened to Senator Boyhan with interest earlier as he spoke about a judicial council in a somewhat critical tone but, as he knows, such a Bill is in process. He also seemed to be critical of the three-person body established to advise the Government, and-or recommend, regarding the appointment of a suitable candidate to be Chief Justice. I believe it to be an eminent three-person body ideal to advise and recommend on such a subject. As we know, a Judicial Appointments Bill is in process. Constitutionally, and in the absence of the Bill, the appointment is a matter for Government. It is an excellent way to proceed while we await that legislation. Unless Senator Boyhan was mixing up the two pieces of legislation, I do not see his point. I do not think there is anything amiss here. I am not saying he said that but he might have implied it.
The Senator's observations are noted.
The International Trade Union Confederation has asked parliamentarians to raise the crisis of migrant workers trapped in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This is the result of sanctions that have been imposed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE coalition against Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar run kafala systems which mean that the migrant workers require permission from their employers for an exit visa if they wish to leave the country. It is a truly horrific system. According to recent information from Qatar, the government is cancelling exit permits for foreign workers and rejecting individuals' rights to freedom of movement. With the blockade of Qatar, fresh food is increasingly scarce, prices have effectively doubled which makes it extremely difficult for the migrant workers who are paid as little as $70 weekly to sustain themselves and, in many cases, it is impossible for them to send money home. Multinational companies are also understood to be drawing up contingency plans to reduce or shut down operations in Qatar as the availability of construction materials is constrained. There is a high risk that migrant workers will be left stranded as is already the case for domestic and agricultural workers employed by Qataris in Saudi Arabia.
While their employer sponsors have been expelled from Saudi Arabia, employees remain stranded there, in many cases with no money or means to return to Qatar or to go home. The governments of both countries can act to eliminate the requirement for an exit visa. This would allow international agencies and the governments of sending countries, particularly Asia and Africa, to facilitate the return of migrant workers trapped by the Kafala system.
Two years ago, our national flag was lowered following the death of the brutal dictator, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. I hope that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will have the courage to act immediately in relation to this issue. Given that it is unlikely the Minister will be able to come to the House before the recess next week, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to write to the Saudi Arabian and Qatar authorities calling on them to immediately withdraw the requirement for exit visas.
I join colleagues in deploring the throwing of a coffin bearing the image of the late Martin McGuinness onto a bonfire in the North of Ireland last night. I find it very sad that anyone should rejoice in the death of another human being. I also think these bonfires are out of control. I have seen photographs of some of them and they were enormous. One of them was located next to a petrol station, which is madness. The Government in Northern Ireland should put in place proper controls and limitations in regard to these bonfires.
I also ask that the House note that Royal Dutch Shell has announced that it is selling its stake in Corrib gas to a Canadian company for €1.08 billion.
The initial process and series of transactions involved in the Corrib gas field were a disgrace to this country.
There was something very fishy about that process and I would like somebody to get to the bottom of who was paid off and whose palms were greased in this nasty little deal. The €1.08 billion accruing from that sale should go to the Irish taxpayer and not Royal Dutch Shell.
This shows how much money is involved and how much the Irish people have been cheated of.
Yesterday, I raised the issue of the M20 Limerick to Cork motorway. Since then, the chambers of commerce in Limerick and Cork have reported on the findings of an Indecon study and a RED C poll in regard to the merits of this project. The Indecon report makes a number of key findings, including that if the project goes ahead approximately 5,400 jobs could be created; the number of accidents on that route could be reduced by up to 118 - the number of accidents on this route having been a source of concern for many years; and €125 million would accrue to the Exchequer. The report has been referred to the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I note from the summer economic statement that there is to be an additional €500 million per annum in capital investment between 2019 and 2021.
I believe that the M20 is the most important infrastructural road project in Ireland. If we are serious about balanced regional development, this project must be progressed. I welcome the additional funding being provided by the Government and I hope that the M20 project will benefit in that regard. Following on from a suggestion I put to the Minister, Deputy Ross, last January, €1 million was assigned to this project and, as such, the National Roads Authority, NRA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, are already doing the work.
I pay tribute to Martin Molony, who passed away this week at the age of 91. He was one of the first jockey super stars. I attended school with his daughters and other members of his family. He was a superstar of his day, both as a flat and a jump jockey. I also pay tribute to his late brother, Tim.
A number of colleagues have already referenced what happened in the North last night in terms of the bonfires and what was depicted upon them. While I was incredibly saddened by the image of the late Martin McGuinness and others, I was not surprised given the history of these particular powers. They have become a manifestation of the lack of respect and equality that Sinn Féin has been talking about in a political context over the past number of months. The unionist parties and unionist leaders have gone to ground. They are more than willing to take endorsement from Loyalist paramilitaries in advance of elections but when it comes to this issue, they are reluctant to go on the airwaves. The last public statement I heard Arlene Foster make was to oppose an Irish language Act because it would risk cultural supremacy without a hint of irony in terms of what is being forced upon many communities. I feel sorry for my unionist and loyalist neighbours who have to endure these health and safety risks and have these disgusting, racist, xenophobic, sectarian depictions inflicted upon them. This mindset is one of the reasons Sinn Féin has stood firm and said there can be no return to the status quo unless there is an end to disrespect and inequality.
I note the very sincere and genuine comments made by Senator Craughwell in his contribution. Another issue on which Sinn Féin has stood firm is the legacy issue and the need for conclusion and resolution for all of those victims, all of the complexities and all of the different experiences. We have said that the British Government's veto around national security is not good enough and that funds must be released to deal with legacy inquests and inquiries and to deal precisely with the type of impassioned experience outlined by Senator Craughwell. It is a shame that some parties are telling Sinn Féin to park those issues, to forget about them and to set them aside in order to return to what went before and what passed for the status quo. Sinn Féin will not be doing that for all of the reasons I have outlined and for all of the reasons Members know we have good reason and cause not to.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to the House to debate the introduction of a renewable heat incentive scheme. The public consultation on the design and implementation of this scheme closed at the end of March. This is a very important scheme, which if introduced in the right way could potentially reduce heating costs for farmers, big business and small and medium enterprises but they need to be supported and the scheme incentivised. It is also important that there is a sufficient supply of biomass to ensure the scheme is successful. There are many issues arising in relation to this scheme. It has been talked about for a long time. It is needed, particularly for businesses whose margins in light of Brexit are ever decreasing. This is an important issue.
Another important issue is the renewable electricity support scheme. If we are to meet our renewable electricity targets, and if they are to be meaningful for communities and individuals, we will need to support micro-generation, be it wind, solar and so on. There is a plan being considered by the Department, about which I would like to hear more. While we need big companies investing in renewable energy, we also need to bring communities and individuals along with us so that everybody benefits and our renewable electricity and heating targets are achieved.
I welcome Senator Buttimer's father, Ms Kay Redmond and Ms Helen Duignan to the Visitors Gallery. It is nice for the Leader that his father, who gave a lot of service to the co-operative foundation, is here today. I also acknowledge the presence of the Lord Mayors of various counties, including my neighbour, the newly elected mayor of Cork County, Declan Hurley, and Councillor Sheehan from Kerry, whose brother was a former Member of the Seanad.
I cannot see all of the faces. I think that the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Fitzgerald, was welcomed earlier. I apologise if I have forgotten anyone but my sight is failing. I welcome everyone to the Chamber and call on the Leader to respond.
I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming our distinguished visitors. They include the Lord Mayor of Cork, the mayor of Cork County and the mayors of all of the counties. I can see Councillor Phyll Bugler is present as well. I welcome them all. I must be careful with the Order of Business as I am being watched by our visitors.
I thank all of the members of the House for their contributions. Today is a very important day in the context of our country.
I urge the Leader to be a little more restrained.
I shall do my best. Today the summer economic statement will be published and it will show the Government's intent for capital infrastructure and investment. We will debate the summer economic statement in the House next week. As I said yesterday, all Members will have an opportunity for their proposals to be scrutinised next week. I look forward to the Sinn Féin Party revealing its high tax and high spend policies and we can hold them to account.
Senator Ardagh made reference to family hubs. The former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, announced the unveiling of the family hub concept. It is a good idea in principle. As Senator Ó Ríordáin mentioned, none of us wants family hubs to become a long-term solution. The Government seeks to provide a wraparound support service to people and families. As many as 18 hubs will be located around the city of Dublin. They are being unveiled and announced as we speak and will cater for 634 families.
Ms Emily Logan is the chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and we should reflect on the comments that she made this morning. The opinion outlined by Senator Ó Clochartaigh and others stems from two academics. It is their opinion and they are entitled to their opinion. Other people hold a different viewpoint about the model of government in terms of the provision of social housing.
That is why we want a debate.
We will have the debate. One of the first acts by the new Taoiseach has been to ask the new Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to review the action plan called Rebuilding Ireland. What gets lost in translation is that the Government aims to have created more social housing and have an investment plan for the Rebuilding Ireland action plan by 2021. This is the only Government to provide multiannual funding for social housing under the heading of Rebuilding Ireland. Never once has Sinn Féin welcomed that fact.
How has the plan gone this year? How many social housing units have been built this year?
Never once has Sinn Féin said that the Government has put money into social housing.
How far off target is the Government?
The Leader has no facts to back him up.
Never once has Sinn Féin said that the Government has put money into social housing.
How far off target is the plan this year?
Let me give Sinn Féin some good news that the Senators can convey to their constituents in the party's next newsletter.
In terms of planning permission, as many as 16,375 new homes were granted in 12 months at the end of last year, which is an increase of 26%. In terms of commencement notices, as many as 14,192 notices for new homes nationwide were submitted up to March of this year, which is a 38% increase. House incompletions, as measured by the ESB and not the Government, showed that there were 15,684 homes across the country, which is a 20% increase on last year.
That is a discredited measure.
It was discredited. We need more space.
I urge the Senators to listen to my good news. They may not like to hear it but do not tell us that the Government has done nothing. The last Government and this Government were committed and are committed to ensuring that we build and create more houses for people. Let me outline one fact.
That is why we have housing hubs.
It is the Government's housing crisis.
I urge the Senators to listen to my good news, I know it is hard to take at times.
I ask Senators to please respect and address remarks through the Chair.
The Government has committed to invest €5.35 billion to deliver 47,000 new homes by the end of 2021.
Where are they?
Judge us on our record when we reach 2021.
The record is bad.
How many houses have been built this year?
Senator Ardagh mentioned the budget. It is important that the task that to which we are committed in government is to ensure that we have a fair and just society. That is why we will see and have seen an increase in-----
-----the number of people in work. Again, it is good news that Sinn Féin does not want to hear. A reduction in income tax will take place, the USC will be cut and the minimum wage will be increased.
By 10 cent.
Wow, 10 cent.
We will maintain core social welfare payments. The party opposite cut them but we have not.
The 10 cent Government.
Judge us on our record.
How many other payments were cut?
Senators Boyhan and Coghlan referred to a judicial council. I join with them in congratulating and thanking Mrs. Justice Susan Denham on her tenure as Chief Justice.
The Government has published the heads of the judicial council Bill that Senator Boyhan raised. I agree with the Chair of the Bar Council that the Judiciary must maintain high standards. There is also a need to see independence between the Government, the Executive and the Judiciary. I hope that will form part of the discussion on the Bill proposed by the Minister for Justice and Equality on the appointment of judges and the judicial council Bill.
The legislation should be known as Minister Ross's Bill.
No. Deputy Ross is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
The Minister should stick to his own Department.
The Senator must be fair and accept that the Minister has done a good job.
I do not accept that.
I presume the Bill will be published in the autumn. We will debate the legislation here in this House. We all accept that there is need for a debate.
Senator Coghlan mentioned the appointment of the Chief Justice. I agree with him that the establishment of a three person judicial council is a good concept. We look forward to the results coming back.
Senators Craughwell, Feighan, Conway-Walsh, Norris, Ó Ríordáin and Ó Donnghaile made reference to the celebrations of 12 July in the North and the bonfires. None of us, as Members of this House, will join in any way in approving the burning of emblems of the national flag or effigies or posters of politicians. We all work to serve our communities and people. The burning of flags, etc. has no place in politics whether it is in the North or South of the island. That applies to all members on all sides of the political divide in this country. Today is a day of celebration for the Protestant community. We are an island of different traditions and cultures and I believe that we all share an aspiration for a united Ireland. I hope that there will be a sense of calm today in the North and that common sense will prevail. I discussed this matter in the House yesterday.
Senator Craughwell referenced the interview by Mr. Michael Hayes on the Birmingham pub bombing. I think Mr. Hayes has a duty to present himself to the police or the Garda if he has information or was party to that hideous crime. I listened to the families of the victims of the Birmingham bombing speak on radio and television during the week. The coverage reminded us all about the distress and turmoil in their lives. As Senator Craughwell rightly said, six people were wrongly imprisoned for the crime and they will never get their time back again. The Senator was right to highlight that fact.
I join with Senator Conway-Walsh in congratulating Ms Aoibhe Carrabine on her successful achievement in the European Women's Youth and Junior Boxing Championships. I welcome and congratulate all of the winners. The Senator mentioned Geesala, which is also the home of Henry Coyle. Geesala is a great sporting area in County Mayo.
I am happy to accept Senator Kelleher's proposal to amend the Order of Business.
Senator Bacik mentioned a Private Members' Bill, which will be debated in the House tonight.
Senators Bacik and Feighan made reference to what the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sports said about the Olympics. I shall not get into a debate about the merits of joining the Commonwealth Games. We can debate the concept of hosting the Commonwealth Games in Ireland on another occasion.
The Seanad will meet next week to debate the summer economic statement. It will afford Senators an opportunity to express their views of the statement.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan highlighted the importance of seaside and coastal communities and he was right to do so. A huge amount of work has been done by county councils, in particular, to maintain, prepare and provide ancillary services for coastal communities. Recently the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, announced that €20 million would be provided for rural Ireland. There is merit in what the Senator has suggested should happen in our seaside and coastal communities. I suggest we invite the new Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, to the House to debate the matter in the autumn.
I wish to give Members notice that it is my intention next week to focus on legislation predominantly, because there is a raft of legislation that we have to get through before the summer recess. If members would indulge me in that, we will try to endeavour to have much of that done in order that we can ensure that we can come back-----
Better late than never.
It is new politics. We see a new alliance between the Labour Party and the Green Party over plastic cups. Great things are happening.
Senator Maria Byrne made reference to Limerick Institute of Technology and commented on the planning.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh made reference to housing as well. It is my intention that the the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, will come to the House in the autumn. I spoke to him yesterday. He is committed to coming in to us. A fire happened in a house yesterday. We have had an awful tragedy again in this country. It is important given the issue of Grenfell Tower that buildings standards are not left to fall away. I am glad the Minister will be able to come to the House in the autumn for that debate. Senator Black also made reference to housing.
Senator Lombard spoke about the review of the EU nitrates directive. This is an important review taking place at the moment. This afternoon the IFA is having a briefing for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that the nitrates directive review can help to get the Government, through the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to place our agriculture community on a sustainable growth path. It is important to look at the way in which we need to arrest the decline in our soil fertility. The agri community has a major export business worth €11 billion to our country in net value, not to mention the amount of jobs being created. Senator Lombard rightly made reference to derogations around the issue of the dairy and livestock farming communities. It is important that the Minister, Deputy Creed, would come to the House to have a discussion as part of the review. I would be happy to invite him for that as well.
I am not familiar with the issue Senator Ó Ríordáin raised relating to the court ruling on legislation and the anomaly in the road traffic legislation. However, when I go back to my office either Orla in my office or I will check with the Attorney General's office whether there is an anomaly that needs to be rectified as a matter of importance.
Senator Swanick raised the issue of home care packages. I was amused at Senator Swanick. He mentioned 2010. As Senator Wilson and everyone will know well, it was the Government he was part of that cut all the aging supports for people. This Government is beginning to re-invest in our elderly, in elder care and in home care packages. I accept there are issues around the provision and that more needs to be done. To be fair to Senator Swanick, he has been very much involved in his local community.
Ten plus what?
It was 2010, yes.
Ten plus what is 17?
If Senator Wilson wants to start at 2008, we can do that.
It was seven years. What has the Government done in seven years?
I remind Senator Wilson-----
Here comes the history lesson. Fine Gael took the shilling off the old age pension? Does he remember that? That was Mr. Blythe I think.
If Senators want to have a history lesson, I would be happy to go back to 2007.
It is a mathematical lesson that Senator Buttimer needs.
I know it is embarrassing for both the Senators, because they were part of a Government that did that and wrecked the country.
Senator Buttimer should try looking in the mirror. That is an embarrassment.
The important point is that the new Government economic policy is about creating a fairer and just society. This will allow us to invest in home care packages, keep people at home longer and living longer. We want to invest in more sustainable lives and keep people rooted in their communities. I accept the concept of what Senator Swanick was saying. However, we have increased the respite care allocation.
It was cut by five hours in Galway.
We have increased home care packages.
Fine Gael cut the home care in Galway.
I will get the Senator the figure if he wants it afterwards.
I will send Senator Buttimer the one with the cuts-----
Senator Gavan raised the important issue of migration and migrant workers, in particular the issue of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I share the concern of Senator Gavan. It is a source not only of worry but of absolute angst that people are being refused exit in situations. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is in the Middle East at the moment. I would be happy to have him come to the House. Also, I would be happy to have him-----
Deputy Buttimer would be happy to have him stay there.
I would be happy to have him take up the matter.
Senator O'Sullivan will be glad to hear that, home and away, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I work very well. I would prefer to stay at home, as Senator O'Sullivan can imagine.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the Corrib gas field and the Royal Dutch Shell sale. That is a matter for other parts of the world, but not for me.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of the M20 Cork to Limerick motorway and the publication of the Indecon study by the Limerick and Cork chambers of commerce. I hope that road will be very much a part of the capital infrastructure programme and I imagine the Cathaoirleach does too. The south-west axis is central to creating a counterbalance to Dublin. As Senator Gavan from Limerick and Senator Byrne will know, that road needs to be upgraded.
It is a matter of absolute importance for all of us. I join Senator O'Donnell in paying tribute to the late Martin Molony. Senator O'Sullivan knows the story well, but for Members who are not aware, Martin Molony was a jump and flat jockey who was a superstar in his time, as Senator O'Donnell said. I want to pay tribute to him. He was one of the most prolific and profound jockeys of his time. He died at the relatively young age of 91. At a time when national hunt and flat racing were tough sports – they still are – he was in the pantheon of jockeys. He was one of the best. I wish to pay tribute to him and his family.
Senator Mulherin raised an issue relevant to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and relating to the renewable heat incentive scheme. The public consultation process has closed. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, and his Department officials are undertaking a review of the submissions made. I will be happy to have him to come to the House in the new term.
I am happy to take Senator Kelleher at the end of the Order of Business.
Senator Colette Kelleher has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment.