The Order of Business is No. a1 on the Supplementary Order Paper, motion re appointment of a new committee and change of names of other committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 1, motion of referral of Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017 to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. a1; No. 2, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality of a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council amending EU Regulation 2016/794 for the purpose of establishing the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, ETIAS, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion of referral of the Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017 to the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, statements on national disability inclusion strategy 2017 to 2021, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude within 90 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
I remind Senators that the leaders of groups have three minutes each and all other Senators two minutes each. I do not want to spoil our first day back by interrupting Members and asking them to resume their seats when they have extended the time available to them.
I stand in the beautiful Ceramics Room of the National Museum of Ireland and welcome all of my colleagues back for what I hope will be a fruitful new term. We, in Fianna Fáil, are very grateful to the staff of the National Museum of Ireland for facilitating our temporary relocation. We promise to ensure the integrity of the museum will be maintained and respected at all times throughout our stay.
I commend the Office of Public Works which is represented by the architect Ms Hilary Vandenberghe, the ushers, the Oireachtas Commission and the staff of the Seanad for all of the work they have done behind the scenes in the past year or more to ensure a smooth transition and also the viability of Leinster House into the future for politicians, staff and the public to either work in and enjoy.
As we sit in this beautiful room the homeless crisis is deepening. At the launch yesterday of the 2016 annual report of the Mercy Law Resource Centre, an organisation that provides independent legal services and which gave legal advice to over 1,077 individuals last year, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, outlined three issues that he recognised were causing the homeless crisis to worsent. The first was the unlawful refusal to provide emergency accommodation for individuals. The second was the lack of proper needs assessments for children who were or on the verge of becoming homeless. The third was the over-reliance on what he described as self-accommodation that left children vulnerable to rough sleeping.
Self-accommodation means that individuals have to spend the day making calls to hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in the hope of securing accommodation and sometimes they do not succeed. He also called for more State intervention for those on the cusp of homelessness and for psychological support for children who are currently, or were previously, homeless. He described a tsunami of hurt coming down the line for which we must prepare. We must ensure that the supports are there for those who need them including, as a priority, emotional support. This is good advice that I hope the Government will heed.
The statistics themselves are shocking. At the end of 2015, 3,625 adults, 1,616 children and 775 families were homeless. At the end of 2016, these figures rose to 4,643 adults, 2,505 children and 1,205 families. Shockingly, by May 2017, the figures, which continued to grow, reached a new peak of 7,700 people, including 2,700 children. The elephant in the room is the lack of supply and the lack of affordable homes. The average price of a home in Dublin now stands at €400,000 but the average salary is in or around €45,000. The average house costs nine times the average salary. Even for many double income, no children households, the average house is out of reach. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to address this House and to outline his immediate plans with regard to the housing crisis. It is not the first time I have raised this matter in the House.
Another topic which requires increased scrutiny is the Government's handling of Brexit. The uncertainty caused by Brexit is of serious concern to the Irish public. I agree with the views of my party colleague, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that waiting to see what happens is not a viable position, given the importance that the outcome of any negotiations will have on all sectors of the economy and on the Irish population. While the comments of the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, on the Good Friday Agreement and on the fact that a transition period is required are welcome, harm to our SMEs remains ongoing with the failure of the Government to outline exactly its contingency plans. Businesses, especially small businesses reliant on trade with the UK, are suffering. A truly national response is needed in preparation for a hard Brexit but this does not seem to be forthcoming. I call on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to address this House in the coming weeks and to clarify the Government's position on a number of key issues, including the Border, post-Brexit relations with the UK and our position vis-à-vis the European Union.
I would like to make one observation regarding our health system. Today's trolley watch figures show 425 people on trolleys, while the figure this time last year was 345 - an increase of 23%. Waiting lists for assessment for speech therapy in Dublin South-Central alone are at 278, while the list for those awaiting therapy is at 907. The average waiting time for an appointment for an occupational therapy assessment in Dublin South-Central is 43 weeks. These figures, though highlighting a particular area, clearly demonstrate our failed system. I call on the Minister for Health to come to House to outline his plans for public health in this country.
I would like to be identified with the compliments that have been paid to the National Museum of Ireland and to the Office of Public Works for the huge amount of work - and the very successful work - carried out on our behalf. I acknowledge the decency of the National Museum in co-operating with the process. I want to be identified in particular with the Cathaoirleach's remarks of gratitude to the Ceann Comhairle for the role he played in ensuring that everybody was happy with the outcome. I also want to echo what Senator Billy Lawless said today, that it is good to have a rendition of the American President in one of the cherubs at the end of the Chamber. It proves conclusively that he does not own a bathrobe or does not use a bathrobe very often.
The first of the two issues I wish to raise today is related to this House, namely, the Seanad Bill. As the Leader will recall, at the close of the last term of this House we agreed that Government time would be made available for the progressing of the Seanad Bill which is before the House.
I take it he has read it by now.
In the circumstances, I would ask the Leader to reconfirm that the Order of Business for the forthcoming weeks will make provision for that. Second, in the context of the amount of business that we have to do in Seanad Éireann, there was an agreement in principle that there would be further room provided for Private Members' legislation if there was not a telling requirement on the part of the Government for legislation time.
Looking at the Order of Business, which has been proposed for today and the coming days, it appears there will be time available from the Government for this purpose.
I wish to raise the remarks of the Taoiseach on his intention to struggle might and main, as he put it, to ensure property tax is not raised in the next couple of years. When one is Taoiseach, it is one thing to say that one has a policy in mind, but it is a different matter to say that one intends to struggle might and main to contain the existing law from having an affect on the people. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Finance, or whoever accepts responsibility in this area, to come to this House for a considered discussion on the future of the property tax and on the injustices, which it is now threatening to impose even more-----
-----on struggling families who do not have the resources to pay it and are not in a position to increase their income or to produce further income to pay what will be a crippling tax burden on them in the coming years.
I and my team want to be associated with the expressions of appreciation of the National Museum, the Office of Public Work and the work of the Ceann Comhairle in bringing us here. Of course, it does not matter what are surroundings are but it is the work we do and how it impacts on the lives of ordinary people and their families that matters. What really matters are the lives of those who are really struggling.
The first issue I wish to raise is pertinent to my community in Erris. Members will know that on Thursday, the parish of Erris and the people of Mayo and Galway were deeply impacted by the release of unscented gas into the system by Corrib gas. I want to address the lack of information for the Erris community. People were left in their homes overnight on Thursday, not knowing whether to leave or remain in their homes. A couple of text messages were sent out late on Thursday evening with very little information and no contact information. Shell had already evacuated its own staff, and people were aware of this, although Shell claimed it did not evacuate them but just told them to go home earlier in the day. This added to the confusion as to what the community should do.
There must be an immediate investigation into these occurrences and why they happened in the first place and also why the company did not communicate with residents in a full and timely manner. The customers of Gas Networks Ireland were also left in a vulnerable situation. The supply of unscented gas is dangerous by the mere fact that people cannot smell a leak, if an appliance has been left on. This is apart from the inconvenience and disturbance caused to households, businesses and crucial facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes where services are dependent on a reliable source of energy. The question remains of who exactly is responsible. Is it the EPA or another agency? There were several statutory authorities and agencies involved in the granting of permissions and licences for this project yet when something like this incident happens, it seems there is nowhere for the buck to stop. I had requested that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, come to the Seanad to deal with a Commencement matter but that request was not accepted. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, comes to the House as soon as is possible to discuss all those issues but also to outline the Government's responsibility for having an emergency plan in place that is communicated not to a few households but to the whole of the community.
Second, I wish to raise the issue that public representatives, particularly local authority councillors who are absent for more than six months are deemed to have resigned. In the case of a woman, if she is ill, she would be covered under the legislation, but this does not apply if she is on maternity leave. The maternity protection legislation 1994 to 2004 states that a woman, whether employed or self-employed, is entitled to maternity leave.
This legislation conflicts with these Acts and is discriminatory against women. I ask that the Minister come before this House as a matter of urgency to explain how this matter will be resolved. I know that if men could have babies we would not be in this situation.
Until such time as men can have babies, I ask that the Minister come before the House and correct this anomaly immediately.
The Senator has made her point.
I join in the thanks to all who have facilitated this temporary move of the Seanad Chamber, including the Office of Public Works, the National Museum and the staff of the Oireachtas, who played a key role. Of course I also thank the Cathaoirleach himself for his work in that regard. I would like to make an appeal that this temporary movement of the Seanad Chamber be accompanied by long overdue movement on the issue of Seanad reform. We know that such reform is in the programme for Government and that it has been committed to repeatedly by all parties, yet we have still not seen movement. Given that the Government has not indicated any intention to hold any referenda on this issue as part of its political reform agenda in its list of expected referenda, we need to assume that it will therefore be pursuing a legislative approach by implementing the Manning report and ensuring the passage of the Seanad reform Bill.
I also note that yesterday was the second anniversary of Ireland signing the United Nations' sustainable development goals, SDGs. This was a revolutionary moment internationally. The SDGs set out a universal global blueprint for what good development might look like. Ireland played a key role in driving that agreement for a long-term stability of economy, society and environment. I ask whether the debate about budget 2018 and the discussions we are having around development match the ambition of that international blueprint, which we called on all nations to pursue. I ask the same about the proposals we are looking at in terms of social and economic sustainability and equality. Do these proposals come from the ground up, or are they still rooted in the trickle-down dynamic which has been discredited by the International Monetary Fund and by so many others?
When we think about the SDGs, it is important that the challenges which we face, nationally and internationally, cannot be tackled with an individualised approach. These challenges require long-term planning and collective action. This is recognised by civil society, with more than 100 very diverse organisations in Ireland having signed up as part of Coalition 2030, which had a march through the city centre yesterday. It is important when we look at international issues such as climate change. Over the summer, all of us witnessed the devastation which climate change is causing and contributing to around the world. When we look at crises such as that in homelessness, where numbers are spiralling, simply telling people to take their chances in a market, or even giving them some small amount of cash to take those chances in a market, is not an adequate solution. We need to recognise collective responsibilities.
I urge the Government to remember that it is not simply responsible for providing opportunities. It is responsible for delivering outcomes. We need joined-up and long-term thinking. I note that the commitment to equality proofing which the Government has made is a very positive step in that regard. I ask the Leader whether he expects an equality statement to accompany budget 2018.
On behalf of the Labour Party group I join with the Cathaoirleach and others in welcoming everyone back after the recess and in thanking all of those involved in making this space so beautiful for us. In particular I thank the staff of the Oireachtas; the National Museum under its board and its chair, Catherine Heaney; and, of course, the Office of Public Works - Hilary Vandenberghe and her colleagues. For those of us who saw this space before the work was carried out it is a remarkable transformation. I will not comment on the state of undress of the cherubs. It is good to know that the National Museum will be left with such positive benefits from the - hopefully relatively brief - time which we will spend using this Chamber. I thank it again for its co-operation.
I thank the Leader for organising a debate on housing this week. He predicted that many of us would be looking for such a debate given that the issue of housing and the scary increase in the numbers of homeless families has been such an issue over the summer months, and it looks like it will remain so for some time. I thank the Leader for that.
I also ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the coming weeks on the issue of precarious employment - the "precariat" as it is known - because we are seeing increasing concern around the status of workers.
The Mayor of London recently decided against renewing the licence to operate of the so-called taxi company Uber, largely because of its treatment of those with whom it works. It does not call those people employees. In that context, I welcome the motion on the sectoral employment order (construction sector) that is before the House today without debate. It is a legacy of the work of the Labour Party and, in particular, of Senator Nash during his time as Minister of State and will provide stability and protection in the workplace for approximately 50,000 construction workers. It is a very important measure.
I ask the Leader to clarify the intentions of the Government in regard to the package of referendums that will apparently be held over the next year. I join Senators McDowell and Alice-Mary Higgins in expressing disappointment that it appears there will not be a referendum on Seanad reform. I am also disappointed there will not be a referendum on the public ownership of assets such as water and other utilities. My party colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, today launched a Bill that would provide for such a referendum and it is a shame we will not have one. However, I am glad it appears there is a commitment to holding a referendum on the eighth amendment, which hopefully will result in its repeal, in 2018. That is long overdue and many Senators will be campaigning for it.
I make a historical reference that next year we will celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage and there will be a series of events in the Oireachtas. I chair the Oireachtas group that is organising them and many colleagues are working with me in that regard. The Seanad will play a leading role in the events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote.
It is also important to note historically that today is the 425th birthday of Trinity College Dublin and we will be celebrating that today.
I ask the Leader to facilitate as a matter of urgency a special debate on the cancellation of bus services in the east of the country over the past few days. Sixteen bus services have been cancelled, including routes to Cavan, Kells, Athboy and Wicklow. Adequate notice is not being given, which is resulting in people standing at the sides of roads waiting for buses that will not come. The cancellations arise from disgruntlement, among other things, with new rostering within Bus Éireann. Twelve-hour shifts that are very discommoding and difficult for drivers and their families have been introduced. The solution lies in more drivers being recruited. That has been committed to but more drivers need to be immediately recruited and a more sensitive and consultative approach taken with drivers on rostering issues and with communities on the cancellation of buses, which should not be happening. I ask the Leader to treat this as a very serious and urgent matter. Some people are not able to get public transport and do not know that is the case. The problem is that people are not getting to work and there are many spin-offs from that. That should not be the case at a time when we are trying to encourage the use of public transport. It is a very serious matter and I expect a comprehensive response from the Leader.
I remind Senators there is two minutes speaking time for Members who are not leaders of a group and that only one item may be raised. That has already been ruled upon.
I wish to highlight the lack of defibrillators in schools and to call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the Chamber to discuss that lack and the importance of supplying them to every school in the country. In recent weeks, the life of a young boy in Rush, north County Dublin, was saved by the quick thinking of his principal, Tim Ó Tuachaigh, of Gaelscoil Ros Eo. A defibrillator was available in the local GAA club on the grounds of which the Gaelscoil is currently housed in temporary accommodation. It is lucky that the defibrillator was available and the boy's life saved. He is now out of hospital and recovering well and hopes to return to school in the coming weeks. Life-saving defibrillators should be available across the country. The Minister has said that schools and their boards of management are free to spend their capitation fees in whatever way they want and that includes the purchase of such equipment and relevant training for staff members.
However, that is not satisfactory. We all know that the capitation fee does not even cover the basics in schools. This means that boards of management and parents have to fundraise locally to supply this life-saving equipment in schools. That is not good enough as it means that only children from very well off school communities can afford to access this life-saving equipment. We need to supply it across the school system to ensure all children are treated equally in that regard by having access to these life-saving devices in a cardiac emergency. The Minister should rethink his approach. I, therefore, ask the Leader to call him into this Chamber to discuss the issue. I pay tribute to the príomhoide Tim Ó Tuachaigh agus na múinteoirí go léir and wish this special and lucky little boy the very best in his recovery.
I join previous speakers in congratulating all those involved in the restoration.
I thank the Leader for organising a debate on housing which is well overdue. I am particularly delighted that the Minister is coming into the Chamber to speak about the issue. It is important that he tell us what his plans and changes are in terms of a reconfiguration of Rebuilding Ireland within 12 months. It will be an interesting debate.
The principal issue I wish to raise relates to a letter I received from the Road Safety Authority about driving tests. We know that many third level students have returned or are returning to university in a matter of weeks, but the driving test waiting lists are an absolute scandal. The Road Safety Authority wrote to me on 21 September confirming that Athlone, Buncrana, Castlebar, Churchtown, Clifden, Clonmel, Dungarvan, Finglas, Kilrush, Loughrea, Nenagh, Portlaoise, Raheny, Skibbereen, Tuam, Tullamore and another 48 towns were on a list of places where people were waiting between 21 and 26 weeks for a driving test. It is an unbelievable scandal that people cannot take a test and receive a full licence, particularly those in rural parts of Ireland who wish to access third level education and employment. I was speaking to someone from Buncrana who has two third level students registered to start university in Derry in two weeks' time, but they cannot go there because of the transport issue. Given the current state of driving test waiting lists, as confirmed in the letter of 21 September to me, we should at least have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, come to the House to explain what exactly he and those in his Department are doing to address the crisis.
I also welcome everyone back and thank all those who worked so hard to have this beautiful Chamber ready for us today.
I refer to the issuing of the Jadotville medals, an issue I have raised on numerous occasions. It is welcome that the Minister has agreed to give a medal to the gentlemen who survived in Jadotville in the Congo in 1961. It is long overdue and I am glad that it is happening. However, I ask the Leader to use his good offices to encourage the Minister and the Department to rush the medals through. As the Leader will appreciate, many of the gentlemen in question are quite elderly; as such, time is of the essence. It is planned to hold Jadotville Day in Athlone in October when there will be a series of events to mark the siege, including the unveiling of a plaque in the civic square. It would, therefore, be appropriate to issue the medals that weekend as people will be travelling from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. I ask the Leader to urge the Minister and those in the Department to do all that they can to provide the medals on time in order that the ceremony can take place the same weekend.
At the start of the Order of Business approximately 20 or 25 hands went up. I am trying to get used to the new Chamber and will allow everyone to speak. I am trying to do my best. In case someone says he or she should be first on the list or is being excluded, I am trying to jot down everyone's name as I go along and I think most are included.
I am sure that many of us heard a modern day Nazi on RTE Radio 1 this morning, spilling bile and racism. It was a fairly horrific five minutes of radio, but it made me think about what this man would think about our direct provision system. We can be fairly confident that, along with his colleagues in Golden Dawn and Front National, he would be firmly in favour of it. After all, our current system of direct provision prevents people from working, from studying, cuts them off from the rest of society, regulates almost every aspect of their lives, and it does not tell them when the system is going to end.
I want to read a small part of a wonderful article by Christiana Obaro, which I am sure many Senators saw last week. She describes living in direct provision, and says:
Do not tell me that direct provision and being the only EU country, apart from Lithuania, that bans asylum seekers from working is the only solution the Irish can come up with to control the immigration of persecuted people from poor countries. Surely you can come up with a kinder, better way? Imagine your child going to another country only to be locked away in camps with endless rules, depressed and isolated from local communities, not allowed to work, given a bed space in a room to share for years with strangers. You are doing this to men, women and children who have fled countries who you have seen on the T.V. news, with all their violence, persecution, hunger and poverty.
It is a stain on politics in this country that for years Government after Government has decided to ignore the disgrace that is direct provision. I am asking for a debate and for the Minister to come to the House. I am asking Fine Gael to take action on behalf of all of us. It has the power to change this system. It is an absolute shame. I believe that many people on the Fine Gael side know this. I would like a pledge, because many of us have been raising this issue since we came into this Chamber, and frankly, nothing significant has changed. There is an opportunity now, after the Supreme Court ruling, to allow these people to work, but good politics and good principles must come into play.
I hope that our ongoing behaviour and the standard of our engagement will rise to the splendour of the Chamber that we are in. It is truly spectacular.
I share that hope with the Senator.
I hope that the Cathaoirleach is not taking my time. This morning I was outside the gate with the Irish Wheelchair Association. It presented a petition relating to its pre-budget submission. A number of other Deputies and Senators were there as well. Three areas were mentioned in the petition. One, in the area of health, related very strongly to the provision of personal assistance supports for people with disabilities. One related to the area of housing. I will not go into the detail, but thousands of people with disabilities were on the social housing waiting list before our official national housing crisis started. The other area related to national public transport, which covers taxis, buses and trains. Many people with disabilities cannot use them. Even when they give 24-hours notice on a weekday or 48-hours notice for weekend travel they still regularly cannot avail of that public service. These are issues which are certainly pertinent for the budget. We must ensure there is a social side to the budget for people and families who are in real need.
Today there are 1,207 young people with disabilities in nursing homes, and when I look around this Chamber I note that some of those people are half our age. The average length of stay in a nursing home is about two years. There are people in their 30s and 40s who cannot foresee anything but the rest of their lives in nursing homes. That is connected with two things which were mentioned this morning. I have raised the need for supports so that people can stay in their own homes, within their own communities and with their families. We are talking about getting people out of residential settings. The State is putting those people into those residential settings. The allied part of that is having suitable housing in the community.
The same cherub to which Senator McDowell refers is clearly a regular user of sunbeds. We are coming up to the budget and it is incomprehensible that the VAT rate on sunbeds is 13.5% while the VAT on sun cream and sunscreen is 23%. Under the Value-Added Tax Consolidation Act 2010, sun bed sessions are currently allocated a reduced VAT rate as they are deemed to be a service consisting of care of the human body. It is ranked alongside beauty treatments and yoga while the standard 23% VAT rate is applied to sunscreen. The idea of sun bed sessions coming under the category of care for the human body is beyond comprehension as there is strong scientific evidence of the link between skin cancer and sun bed use.
In 2009, the international agency for research on cancer classified sun beds as carcinogenic to humans, leaving them in the same category as plutonium and tobacco. A recent Ipsos MRBI poll by the Irish Cancer Society revealed that 150,000 people in Ireland used a sun bed last year, with 36,000 using them on a weekly basis. The survey revealed a worrying increase in the number of young people using sun beds. There are many anomalies in the current VAT system and I have written to the Minister in connection with many of them in the food area, but this is a glaring anomaly. Changing it will not affect the overall budget but it would send a very clear message that we cannot have a higher rate of VAT on sun cream than the one on sun beds, which do so much harm to people.
I have raised the issue of breastfeeding on many occasions in this House, as well as the support given to women regarding it. This morning, I learned with great disappointment that the baby friendly health initiative for our maternity hospitals is ceasing from today because of the withdrawal of a miserable €50,000 by the HSE. I raised the issue by way of a Commencement matter on 12 July with the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, who gave an undertaking to come back to me very quickly but I have had no contact from him. There are many benefits to breastfeeding, not only in giving a child a healthy start and reducing obesity in children but also to the mother in the area of cancer prevention. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Health to the House to discuss what I believe is a very important issue that affects the health of our children and our mothers.
The initiative to which I refer is the only independent initiative that operates within our maternity hospitals and I believe the HSE has pulled funding because it does not like international benchmarking within our maternity service. It has been operational in this country since 1999 and now, without consultation, it has been withdrawn. I find this quite disturbing, especially given that it could be funded right through our period of deep recession. If we truly want to encourage mothers in this area and to support our hospitals in improving standards within the service, this initiative has to be re-established, independently of the HSE, as soon as possible. The baby friendly health initiative is recognised by the World Health Organization and UNICEF but the HSE has done this without consultation and requests to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to meet the voluntary group have fallen on deaf ears. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this issue as early as possible.
I wish to be associated with all the nice words on the facelift the Seanad has received. A fabulous job has been done.
The Leader might remember that we discussed the revaluation of rates and the Minister said he might return to the House on the issue for 2017. The process is well under way and Mullingar is one of the towns where quite a lot of work has been done. There has been a massive shift in the way rates have been revalued and the burden has been passed to retail shops, which have had a 60% increase in Mullingar, Tullamore, Longford and other provincial towns.
My good friend spoke about Navan. The increase in rates has been similar across towns. There has been a decrease of 80% in the rates applying to industrial units in Mullingar and the surrounding areas. There has been a 60% reduction in the rates applying to the hospitality sector, which has also had the bounce of the VAT reduction. As we have been told, the figures are freely available. Currently, 60% of all clothes in retail outlets in Britain are being sold online. We have to examine the rates applying to retail stores. The retailers are feeling a serious pinch. They are on their knees. Unless we want to pollute our towns with coffee shops, chippers and bookmakers, we will have to seriously examine this issue.
There is a fundamental flaw in the way the figures are calculated. They are based on stamped rental agreements, which are a not a true indication of the passing rent of a building at any given stage. They are based on the rent of a building but the passing rent is often different from an odd stamped agreement. Most agreements are not long term and, therefore, are not stamped. We will have to seriously examine this issue. The figures are available to be seen by all of us.
I agree with everything Senator Davitt said.
I wish to call for the Oireachtas to have a Diabetes Ireland open screening day which would involve cross-party and staff screening. The reason I call for it is that a World Health Organization report published two weeks ago states that 1.3 million people died of diabetes-related illnesses in 2016, the incidence of which is up 30%. A survey on diabetes, carried out in the midlands over a five-year period, found that 61% of people diagnosed will make life-saving changes to their lifestyles. A report was published on children's fitness levels in schools during the week. It was found that physical education classes for students were reduced to one class per week when, in reality, they should be increased to one class per day. It also found that in certain schools the play area was confined and children had been told not to run because of health and safety reasons.
I would like to thank Lidl Ireland and Diabetes Ireland for running a screening day. It was a huge success. Our lives and our eating habits have changed. As politicians, we have to lead by example. That is the reason I will be making representations to the Cathaoirleach and to the Ceann Comhairle to have an open screening day with Diabetes Ireland in the Oireachtas. It might save somebody's life.
There are two truly Independent Senators who are not part of any grouping, Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Norris.
I will bring them in as soon as possible and I have an opportunity now to bring in Senator O'Donnell.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that. I would like to congratulate the National Museum, the Office of Public Works, the Cathaoirleach, the Captain, the ushers and everybody concerned with this new Chamber. I hope that our behaviour and level of argument will parallel the Chamber we have been given to debate legislation.
I want to raise the issue of post offices if some people would stop talking. I believe it is as big an issue as the water issue. With the demise of the rural post office under the Grant Thornton report, it is predicted that 450 to 600 of them will close. Meanwhile in the Lower House a Private Members' Bill on community banking was passed by 157 Deputies. I would like to know what is happening in respect of that Bill.
Community banking works very well in New Zealand. Does the Leader know that 95% of all banking in Ireland is commercial while 70% of all banking in Germany is community and only 12% is commercial. If 500 to 700 post offices are to close, we need some way out of this. I do not believe that putting up the price of stamps or even broadband will save us. We need to follow the example of the Kiwi PostBank of New Zealand. The postal banks are thriving in New Zealand, not as a historical artifact but as a popular new innovation.
When they were instituted in 2002 it was not to save the post offices but to save New Zealand families from big businesses and big banking predators. We all know now that we do not even have people in the banks to talk to; we talk to machines. One's local post office can become one's local bank. I would like the Leader to let me know when the Minister, Deputy Naughten, might be able to coming in here to tell us what is happening regarding this matter because it is very serious.
I call the youngest Senator in the House, Senator Warfield.
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Pozna, Poland, the occasion being an LGBT pride event. I took part in a panel discussion alongside an Irish delegation on Ireland's road to marriage equality before parading in the protest march. I was struck by the number of people who repeatedly reminded us how much it meant that Ireland opened its doors to Polish citizens in 2003 and 2004 without the restrictions and attitudinising that so many other countries - the old EU 15 - indulged in at the time. Census figures from 2011 and 2016 document Poland as the country with the most non-Irish nationals resident in this State. The 3,000 people marching in Pozna on Saturday, alongside a heavily militarised police presence, were impatient for change on issues such as abortion and marriage equality. I believe they deserve our support and our acclamation. Ideally, that support should come from the highest levels of the Irish Administration.
Ireland has a long history of international solidarity, stretching back to the United Irishmen of 1798. The change sought by Poland's LGBT community is inevitable, and Ireland must be a champion internationally for the change we have witnessed at home. We are being touted globally as a beacon of real social inclusion and diversity. Parallels between Ireland and Poland are striking in the context of a Roman Catholic-repressed society. I say all this because another Europe is possible. The major crises we face - be they economic, social or ecological - can be tackled simultaneously together. We can tackle rocketing levels of youth unemployment, rising poverty and the threat posed by the return of fascism. I refer not to radical nationalism, the alt-right or far-right extremism but to fascism and the ensuing threat to human rights. To do what I describe, Ireland must be a champion for a social union. Again, Ireland is being touted internationally as an example of a state with social inclusion. I would like the Leader to convey that message to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, in the context of both Poland and the wider European Union.
Clearly, the past couple of weeks have not been the happiest for Mayo football. While I congratulate the Dublin team, I pay tribute to the valiant efforts of the men and women from our senior football teams in Mayo. Their efforts have been a massive source of county pride and have given us unity of purpose. We look forward to next year.
What might be less known is that we took a national title home. By saying "we", I imply that one of the Members of the House was critical in the process. Senator Paddy Burke was part of the winning team from Castlebar Golf Club that won the Jimmy Bruen all-Ireland championship of 2017 last Saturday. I congratulate him, the entire team and the club captain, Noel Burke, on this absolutely massive achievement. To begin with, there were 400 teams, and the winning team beat off stiff competition.
I join in calls for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to be brought to the House in light of the survey, published in the Irish Examiner today and conducted by cartell.ie in conjunction with AA Ireland, showing quite astoundingly that over 10% of used cars are clocked and that 18% of imported used cars are clocked. Some 120,000 vehicles were surveyed. At a rate of 10%, that is about 12,000 vehicles. This is very serious and there can be an impact on road worthiness. If one believes one's car has a lower mileage than it actually has, one might not change the timing belt and so on. AA Ireland has said it is a factor frequently found when it deals with people who need to be rescued at the side of the road.
It is also a significant issue relating to the used car market. I would like the Minister to come to the House and talk about consumer protection, the protection of the used car market and issues pertaining to road safety. The findings in this survey are quite astounding.
I would have to clock the Senator as well.
I join others in congratulating all involved in the presentation of this magnificent building. I wish to address the lack of inhalers in our schools. In October 2015, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, signed regulations that would allow for prescription-only medicines, including asthma-relieving salbutamol, to be administered by trained personnel in an emergency. Today, as our children return to school, not one school has received an asthma-relieving inhaler for their first-aid kits. I spoke to a number of principals recently who have not heard of the scheme or received any inhalers. They have received no information, no equipment and no training. It is one of the best-kept secrets of all time. Recently, the Asthma Society of Ireland highlighted how our children are at risk in school. Recent statistics from Great Britain indicate that a number of deaths have occurred in schools where children have had asthma attacks. Clearly, it is something that needs to be addressed. I ask the Leader to impress earnestly upon the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education and Skills the importance of addressing this issue. It simply is not good enough when one considers that one in five school-going children suffers from asthma. I ask the Leader to address this issue with both Ministers in order that this can be resolved before it ends in a very sad story for someone.
I call the father of the House, Senator Norris, on the usual condition that he will be brief.
I will. I join my colleagues in complimenting the Office of Public Works on the refurbishment of this Chamber, in particular the majolica decorative panels around the door cases. I visited this place before it was refurbished and it was in a very sorry state. However, I do not quite share the ecstasies of my colleagues about the beauty of this place. It seems to me that it is a frigid Victorian barn and the sooner we are out of it, the better.
The other matter I would like to raise is the noxious impact of a section of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, against which I railed at the time it was introduced. I indicated that I felt that it was a self-righteous and smug approach on the part of middle-class people to the most vulnerable section of our society. I warned that there would be a danger to health, a spreading of disease and a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on people who provide sexual services. This has been confirmed recently by the issuing of a series of reports which indicate that attacks on sex workers have increased dramatically. One report claims that the law change has forced the trade deeper underground and put sex workers under greater pressure to put themselves in riskier situations. One group said that it had received 1,635 reports from sex workers who were concerned about clients, which is a 61% increase over the previous year. A total of 137 of these incidents involved violence, including sexual assault, while 79 incidents of violence were reported in the first five months of last year. Even Ruhama has said that it has seen a rise in attacks. The statement from Ruhama's spokesperson said that there had definitely been a spate of attacks. I am glad that the Act included provision for a three-year review, but in light of this evidence, it is important that the Minister advances this review to look at the disastrous impact on the health and welfare of a very vulnerable section of our society.
I call Senator Hopkins.
The Senator had a busy summer. She was not, like others, sunbathing. I believe the Senator got married during the summer. I congratulate her and wish her every success in her life and future.
I was not expecting that. Thank you, a Chathaoirligh.
It is the best bit of news today. Senator Hopkins still has only two minutes.
Today I want to raise huge concerns that I and many people in County Roscommon have about an external report on mental health services in our county. That report was commissioned as a result of serious issues which existed in the safe and effective delivery of mental health services. The report was published three weeks ago. I have raised my concerns with the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health services, Deputy Jim Daly, and also with the Minister, Deputy Harris, but I will make a number of points.
There are 27 recommendations in this report. There are no timelines for implementation. We have had serious issues with regard to accountability. Almost €17 million has been returned to the HSE over a period of three years. That cannot happen again. We need to change the culture within mental health services. We need to ensure we learn from the mistakes of the past. We need to ensure that people who have to use the mental health services, their families and the wider public have confidence and trust in using those services which they need at very difficult times. However, we do not currently have that confidence.
From a further meeting that I had this morning with the chief health officer, Mr. Tony Canavan, I understand he has stated that there are a number of recommendations currently being implemented, particularly with regard to management engaging properly with staff, but there are huge communication difficulties, teamwork difficulties and trust difficulties within the mental health service in Roscommon and there needs to be close monitoring in terms of the implementation of these recommendations. We need strong leadership at every level, from Government right down to staff members, to ensure we deliver a better service for the people who need it. I will continue to raise the issue until we see improvements in those services.
That matter was raised already today during the Commencement debate.
I raised the matter this morning. To add to it, Senator Hopkins needs to push for the implementation group not to include those who have already been found to be ineffective in Roscommon-Galway.
I want to start with the Dubliner, Fr. Joe Mallin, son of Michael Mallin and the last surviving child of the 1916 Rising leaders. He is 104 and we celebrated his birthday in Dublin 8 last week. I would like the Seanad to send Fr. Joe Mallin a birthday card to wish him well, and to congratulate the double Dublin winning all-Ireland teams.
I wish to raise the issue of Dublin Simon Community's report on homelessness and health. It is, I suppose, the leading charity for health and homelessness in our city. The report was launched today by our Ard Mhéara, Mícheál Mac Donncha. Unfortunately, analysis has shown that the health funding for homelessness has dropped by 10% since 2008. In 2008, the health spend was over €36 million with 1,388 homeless adults using emergency accommodation. We thought we were bad then but we now have almost 6,000 people using such accommodation, half of whom are children. Children are being born into homelessness. The cost of homeless is growing. The current health spend in the area is €32 million. Homelessness has jumped by 170% since 2004 and yet the health budget is way below what it should be.
We know of the detrimental impact of homelessness such as the anxiety and the physical impact of losing one's home, one's community, the school for one's children and going into precarious bed and breakfast accommodation or situations.
Research has told us that but we do not need research to tell us. I would like the Leader to ask the Ministers, Deputy Eoghan Murphy and Deputy Simon Harris, to discuss this and resolve it and to try to get an adequate health budget for these areas. The budget is way below what it should be considering that homelessness in this city has increased by 170%.
I welcome everyone back after our summer break. I am sure we were all doing clinics and were very busy. I want to raise the matter of local government funding. As Senators are aware, the 31 local authorities are preparing for the budget. We are also aware that each local authority has to have its local property tax budget meeting over by the end of September. I have massive concerns about that. I think it is unfair. Most local authorities are looking for increases in this tax. I am concerned about the funding of local government. I will give some statistics. If one looks at Carlow for 2016, we got just a little over €2 million from central Government. Kilkenny got €3.5 million; Leitrim got well over €6.5 million; Longford got €6.5 million; Laois got €4 million; and Sligo got nearly €6 million. If one looks at our figures, Carlow has had an increase in population of 4.1% since 2011. Carlow town is the 14th largest urban area in Ireland. If one looks at the figures, one will see that Longford received 52% more funding than Carlow, yet it has a 29% lower population. Leitrim received 55% more Government funding, even though it has a population 42% less than Carlow.
I have major concerns about this because local authority budgets impact so much on people's lives, whether in the form of housing, grants, roads or community funding. If this local government funding is not distributed evenly to each local authority, it is unfair. It is not right. The Government needs to be accountable for why the local authority in Carlow got only €2 million when most other local authorities were getting €4 million in local government funding. The Minister needs to be brought into the House to account for this.
I too join with others in congratulating everyone involved in preparing this Chamber. The facilities are clear evidence that there was a very good team effort between the people here in Leinster House, the planners, contractors and everyone involved. I congratulate them on the work they have done.
I would like to raise the very good and welcome announcement today of €350 million to be spent by UCC on developing new facilities, which are the Cork University Business School at a cost of €100 million, student accommodation at €64 million and €37 million for a dental school.
I raise this in connection to the development of third level education and our association with other organisations. Over the past few months, I have raised the fact that Ireland is not a member of CERN, the huge European organisation for nuclear research. It has great opportunities for Irish graduates in research and development, whether in technology, science, engineering or maths. Ireland is not a member of CERN. Some 21 European countries are members of CERN and the only country from outside Europe is Israel. Some 22 countries are involved. The big disadvantage from an Irish point of view is that as well as excluding graduates from research opportunities, we are also excluding more than 200 Irish companies which would gladly tender for contracts that are available every year. More than €300 million is available in contracts from CERN every year. Irish companies are not allowed to tender because Ireland is not a member. We are not even an associate member. I do not understand it. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to set out clearly the programme that will be put in place for Ireland to become a full member of CERN.
It is important for our graduates. We talk about growing our universities. This is a chance to give them an opportunity when they finish in our universities and go on to further studies. I ask for that time to be given for full debate.
The normal time for the Order of Business is up but five further speakers have indicated. Given the day that is in it, our first day in this new building, I will use my discretion to allow everyone in.
Cuirim féin leis na focail atá ráite cheana féin faoin athchóiriú agus an suíomh breá álainn seo atá anois againn ar feadh tréimhse.
I echo the sentiments that it is important, especially after Guy Verhofstadt's address last week, for us to receive an update regarding Brexit from either the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I want to draw Members' attention to the seven days of action announced by An Dream Dearg which works closely with Conradh na Gaeilge and Irish language organisations across the country. An Dream Dearg is calling for seven days of action this week. Yesterday, it asked that everyone would add a filter to their profile picture on social media. Today it is encouraging people to engage with the Irish Government on the matter of a stand alone Acht na Gaeilge in the North. The campaign has been a youth-led, diverse, colourful, inclusive, active, visible, loud, joyous one but it is one that has been frustrated which is understandable when one considers that people are asking for rights and entitlements that are available to people in this State, and in Scotland and Wales. I encourage Members, including the Leader, to participate in the campaign. An Dream Dearg is making a very modest call. On Friday it is asking people to wear red to work. Two of my Fianna Fáil colleagues have got the memo early and have taken a lead on this. Fair play to them. I will circulate the details and hopefully, just as the majority of parties in the North - 50 of 90 MLAs support the call for a stand alone Irish language Act - we will see every party and organisation in this House also back the call.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá ar an ócáid speisialta seo. I am more than pleased with the result of the renovations. It is a beautiful building and it is appropriate that we have a collection Yeats's poetry outside in the atrium since he served as a Seanadóir and his son served as one of the Cathaoirleach's predecessors.
I join the Cathaoirleach's words of congratulation to all those concerned in the project, to the Ceann Comhairle, the Office of Public Works, the National Museum board, the contractors, the Oireachtas staff and everyone involved. As a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, I wish to highlight in particular the work of our staff, the Clerk of the Seanad, Martin Groves, and the Clerk Assistant, Brigid Doody, the Cathaoirleach's adviser, Aisling Hart, and the Cathaoirleach. The Cathaoirleach cannot give himself a clap on the back but I am more than well aware of the work that he has put into the project over the past 12 months. God knows, he is busy enough without it. It is a credit to him.
In July 2016 it was decided to set up a Citizens' Assembly to look into aspects of the eighth amendment. It was also decided that on conclusion, its report would be handed over to a joint Oireachtas committee of which I am a member, under the excellent chairmanship of our colleague, Senator Catherine Noone. What is bothering me, and what I hope the Leader will bring to the Taoiseach's attention, is that the Taoiseach and several senior Ministers have been speaking out regularly about their intentions related to the holding of a referendum on the eighth amendment and are apparently now putting dates on it. What is the point of this Oireachtas committee? I ask myself what I am doing on it if it to be gazumped and the Government is moving on regardless.
Any Oireachtas committee is entitled to the respect of giving it enough time to complete its business and, God knows, we do not have enough time, as we have to report before Christmas. It is like sending out a meitheal of sleánsmen to the bog when the turf has already been brought home. It is time the Government left the committee to do its work unhindered for the next few months.
I agree very much with much of Senator O'Sullivan's commentary, in particular, in concurring with the Cathaoirleach's earlier remarks complimenting the OPW, the Ceann Comhairle, the National Museum, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad and their staff regarding this fine room we have on a temporary basis. It will serve us well.
I refer to the matter raised by Senator Mulherin. Despite the perception that Mayo had a poor year sportswise, the county won one all-Ireland, namely, the Jimmy Bruen all-Ireland golf championship. As she said, one of the stalwarts on that team was Senator Paddy Burke. He ensured success for his side in the final against Warrenpoint. Well done to him.
I respect the Cathaoirleach's view and he will not want me to get into matters regarding the Seanad reform Bill. I will not blame Senator McDowell. He was merely giving expression to a report in Bill form but we will have another day to get into that and all its flaws.
To synopsise, the Senator is saying the proposed reform of the Seanad has flaws and Senator McDowell can interpret that in his own way.
We must not subvert the Constitution. It will have to be referred back to the people in a referendum.
Glaoim ar an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus bhúr gcéad fáilte ar ais. Cuirim fáilte roimh an bhfógra atá déanta go mbeidh reifreann againn maidir le cearta vótála do na himircigh Éireannacha. I welcome the indication that we may have a referendum on the voting rights of the diaspora, which is long overdue, and I look forward to debating the detail around that because it is important. There was a great deal of criticism during the recess by spokespersons such as Niall O'Dowd and Ciaran Staunton about issues relating to members of the diaspora who wish to return. We have had many promises regarding what will be done about that but I reiterate my call for the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon, to come to the House as soon as possible to debate this.
It is interesting that we are discussing referenda. What is the Government's stance on the referendum called by the Catalan Parliament, which is to be held on 1 October? It is worrying that when a decision has been taken by democratically elected politicians in a parliament, public representatives are being arrested for taking the decision along with civil servants; policing powers have been taken over by the Spanish Government and the website of the Catalan National Assembly, L'Assamblea Nacional Catalana, a civil society organisation, has been closed down. Where does the Government stand on this issue? Has this been raised with the Spanish Government? Does our Government support the Catalan Parliament in its right to self-determination and to hold a referendum on that issue on 1 October? It is worrying that parliamentarians are not being given the right to express their opinions on these issues. The leader of the parliament was arrested and a number of others suspended from office. I would welcome a statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and possibly the Taoiseach on these issues to see where the Government stands on our behalf.
Finally, I call Senator Swanick. He is last but not least. He was first to contribute in the House today on his Commencement matter. He made a little bit of history.
I echo the sentiments of my colleague. Democracy is sacred and from it flows all other rights and freedoms. The peaceful co-existence across the EU and the senseless carnage of two world wars remind us that democracy, elections, and dialogue are always preferable to war and violence.
The Catalan Parliament has called a referendum, to be held on Sunday, 1 October, with a simple binary question on whether people want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic. The response to the proposed referendum has been a General Franco-style crackdown by the Spanish Government, with the seizure of 10 million ballot papers, the arrest of referendum activists and the threat of arrest for any mayor who facilitates the holding of a vote. It appears Madrid may be reverting to the type of dictatorial regime that Franco perfected; the type of regime perfected by Castro in Cuba and Pinochet in Chile, where dissent ensured a person disappeared or was put up against Castro's infamous firing squad walls. Today, thousands of people in Chile are without loved ones because they had the audacity to look for free and fair elections. In the case of Castro's Cuba, people were sent to prison work camps because they were Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexual or deemed by Castro to be out of step with the Communist ideology. This is what happens when democracy is eroded and dialogue stops. This is why freely elected leaders should be careful in their use of language and their praise for deceased dictators.
The recent independence votes in Scotland in 2014, Montenegro in 2006 and Québec in 1995 have inspired the Catalan people to have a referendum. In the spirit of the EU and in the interest of dialogue and understanding, I call on the Seanad to invite President Puigdemont of Catalonia to address us. We have a precedent in Seanad Eireann, offering a warm welcome to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. We need to hear about what is taking place in another EU member state. We need the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach to condemn the attempts to curtail democracy in another EU state. Let us bear in mind that in this Chamber and elsewhere in Ireland there were expressions of outrage about the democratic election of the current US President. How about we find our voice now in relation to the attempt by the Spanish Government to close down and intimidate a democratic vote for the Catalan people?
I acknowledge the head of a Catalan delegation, Sergi Marcén, who is in the Gallery. I call on the Leader to respond to the Order of Business.
I thank the 29 Members of the House who contributed to the Order of Business. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom, ar nós an Chathaoirligh agus na mBall eile, fáilte a chur roimh gach éinne go dtí an Teach seo. Ba mhaith liom mo fhíorbhuíochas a ghabháil le foireann Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí, Teach Laighean agus Ard-Mhúsaem na hÉireann as ucht na hoibre atá déanta acu. Tá an ceart ag an Chathaoirleach nuair a deireann sé gur lá iontach, speisialta agus stairiúil atá ann. In welcoming everybody to the Chamber I am mindful of the words of Albert Reynolds. I hope it is a temporary little arrangement and that we can go back to our home, which is a very fine Chamber in itself. Today, in the Ceramics Room, we are paying tribute to the museum but our own Chamber is also an extraordinary Chamber, and it is a privilege for all of us to be here today as Members of the Upper House to mark the opening of our temporary home.
I thank everybody who has been involved in allowing this to happen, from the board of the museum to the museum staff, and I want to allay the fears of the museum staff. We are here as temporary custodians and we want to continue to work with them to ensure a smooth transition. I pay tribute to the team under Superintendent Conway of Leinster House. The officials from the Office of Public Works did tremendous and Trojan work during the summer recess. I also pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and the staff of the Seanad Office for the work they have done, along with the Ceann Comhairle and the staff of Leinster House. I look forward to a very successful tenure here in this Upper House.
We are in the decade of commemoration, and it is important that when we commemorate the first Dáil in 2019 that we do so in our own home, in the Seanad Chamber. It is important that the Houses of the Oireachtas, the OPW and the Government spend money on ensuring the working environment of members of staff, Members of the House and our personal staff is always upheld. This is not a vanity project. As we all know quite well, this is about ensuring our Parliament, the Houses of the Oireachtas, is suitably located in Teach Laighean. It is about ensuring we have a Parliament that can represent the people in the decade of commemoration we are now celebrating.
I will now respond to the multiplicity of issues raised by the 29 Senators. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of Brexit. I assure the Senator that the Government is not being passive or an idle passenger in the car: it is very proactive. The Taoiseach was in London yesterday to meet with Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, have been travelling around Europe and the world outlining the Government's proposals. All of us welcome the movement by Prime Minister, Theresa May, in her speech last Friday and recognise that this is an evolving situation. At the risk of sounding a politically discordant note, the British Government and the Tory Party in particular are moving their position as the process moves on. Following on from the remarks made in the Dáil last week and by Mr. Barnier yesterday, it is important that we allow Government, in tandem with all, to pursue and promote the Irish interest. This is about protecting the peace process. It is about ensuring that we do not have an economic border, that we do have a common travel area and that the Government recognises the importance of all of this. We will work to ensure that our position is heard not only in the United Kingdom but across Europe, as we have been doing.
In regard to the issue of homelessness and housing, all of us, from our clinics and communities, know people who have had the harrowing experience of living in hotel rooms or poor accommodation. These constituents are not just statistics, they are people, some of whom we know and are our friends. I remind Senator Ardagh that her party, Fianna Fáil, cannot be absolved of blame in this regard. Fianna Fáil was in government for 14 years.
We are talking about the future now. What is the Government going to do?
The collapse of the banking system and the decimation of the construction industry happened on its watch. For Fianna Fáil Senators to point the finger at the current Government when it was party to all of that is incredible. Fianna Fáil needs to accept responsibility. That said, I accept that we have a road to travel. It is important the Rebuilding Ireland project results in people being taken out of homelessness and, equally, that we build houses that are not only private houses but social houses. I share the Senator's concern in that regard and I will work with her through Government to ensure a solution is found to the housing crisis.
In regard to health and hospital waiting times - I am not familiar with the issues in the Senator's area - the Government has increased HSE funding. Spend in terms of the health budget for the HSE is now the highest it has ever been. It is important this is recognised. That said, I am happy to request that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House to address the issues raised by the Senator.
Senators McDowell, Higgins and Bacik raised the issue of Seanad reform. I have with me a copy of Senator McDowell's newsletter which was distributed in many parts of the country. I was particularly interested to note it referenced Ranelagh. I am sure Senator Humphreys and Deputies Murphy and O'Connell will have something to say-----
I received one to my home.
Senator McDowell is, perhaps, rekindling his Dáil ambition and is not really concerned about reform of the Seanad but is using it as a political weapon. The Senator might clarify that issue another time.
It also mentions Ringsend.
I assure Senator McDowell that the Government is committed to reform of the Seanad. It is not a one-trick pony in terms of Seanad reform. As Senator Coghlan said, there are disparate and different parts of that wheel which is the key part of Seanad reform. Senator McDowell will be pleased to hear that the Taoiseach is anxious to come to the Seanad to outline to Members his views on how we can expedite the Manning report. I look forward to that engagement taking place in the coming weeks.
Senator Coghlan is correct that there are different viewpoints on Seanad reform. If one were to take a straw poll of the 60 Members of this Seanad one would not get one view on it. The Cathaoirleach referenced Senator McDowell's Bill. There are some who believe it is flawed. As Leader, I do not have an opinion on that. I am anxious to work with the Senator in the pursuit of reform. We will have a debate on the issue. As per Senator Humphreys's request prior to the recess, I have spoken to the Taoiseach and asked him to come to the House and we are working on a date in that regard. It will happen in due course.
It will not be an elongated invitation, it will be in the coming weeks.
In respect of the issue of legislation, which I believe Senator McDowell mentioned, sometimes legislation is published well in advance and is available for us to peruse. Other Bills are brought forward as a matter of urgency, but by and large it is important that we have good debate in the House and I am happy to work with all Members to ensure that.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the important and harrowing issue of the gas incident which befell the community of Erris last week. It is worrying. The Commission for Energy Regulation is carrying out a full investigation. If there is any issue or any improvement in communication between different people and organisations which could be made we should certainly have it investigated and looked at. It was handled well. From talking to people I know in the area there was a lot of communication. There were notices on local radio and in local newspapers and there was a very proactive campaign. I will, however, take the Senator's views on board. The Senator also made reference to the issue of maternity leave for public representatives. Her point is very valid.
On a point of order, Senator Conway-Walsh is not here.
Members come and go from this House. I want to rule on this because it has come up before. There are days when Senator O'Donnell may not be here.
That is true but-----
No, it is for the Leader to decide who to respond to.
That was a cheap shot.
It is not a cheap shot. If people ask a question of the Leader, they should stay for the answer.
That is a matter for the Leader. He has discretion.
It is not a cheap shot.
It is disgraceful in fact.
I will make a point generally. I do not like people referring to somebody who had to leave the Chamber for whatever reason - whether he or she is sick, at a committee meeting or something else - because today was exceptionally long. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is waiting and will probably have to wait at least another 15 minutes because-----
The Senator is at a committee meeting.
-----we were delayed. I was trying to let everybody in. It is the Leader's discretion and that is not a fair point of order.
If I may address the point which Senator O'Donnell raised, to be fair Senator Conway-Walsh told me she had to leave for a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. The point the Senator makes is that some Senators do not do that. She at least had the courtesy to come to me and say that she was leaving, but I think Senator O'Donnell raises a valid point in terms of how people interact. I am not being precious.
Senator Higgins raised the issue of the budget, Seanad reform and equality proofing in budget 2018. I certainly hope that Government will take cognisance of the sustainable development goals and that we will see equality proofing in budget 2018. Perhaps the Senator can advance that with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach or even here as a Commencement matter with the Minister.
Senator Bacik also raised the issue of employment, the precariat and the issue of precarious employment. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, come to the House in that regard. Regarding referenda, the Government today announced a series of indicative dates for referenda. I do not have the list of the referenda or the dates to hand, but there are eight or nine indicated over a two-year period.
It might be preferable to discuss that tomorrow.
I will try to come back with a note for Members on that issue over the coming days. I commend Senator Bacik for her role as chairperson of the women's suffrage committee which is celebrating women's right to vote. To be fair to the Senator she has shown huge leadership on this matter along with other Members of the House. I commend her on that and congratulate Trinity College on its 425th birthday today.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeannaire.
There is only one university, Trinity College. I have never heard of UCD or DCU.
I know that the Members of the House elected by Trinity College graduates - Senators Ruane, Bacik and Norris - represent the graduates of that university with distinction in this House.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the issue of buses and public transport in Cavan. He has been very vocal on the matter.
We are running very late and it is unfair on the Minister of State, who is waiting. Will Senators please allow the Leader to conclude?
The Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, will be busy after the Order of Business today I am sure, given the demands and requests made of him. I have 29 people to reply to. I will try my best to get to everybody to be fair to those who raised matters. It is important that we encourage public transport.
I join with Senator Clifford-Lee in commending the principal, an tUasal Ó Tuachaigh, for his leadership in the school community in respect of the issue which she raised. The provision of defibrillators is a very important matter. In our communities, we know there are many of them in public places, whether in sports hall, in community grounds or on the streets of our own cities. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Bruton, address the matter. I know he has made comments on the matter and that there is an issue between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills as to who provides them. The matter of defibrillators, however, is one which should not be used to divide or as a political tool. I am not saying that is what the Senator is doing. The issue which the Senator has raised is very important and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of driver tests. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House on that matter. There is an inordinate delay in certain parts of the country. For some reason there seems to be an increase in the waiting times. I would be happy to facilitate the Minister coming in. We have a debate on housing on Thursday. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will address the matters the Senator raised in that respect as part of the debate.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of Jadotville and medals for the surviving members. To give Senator McFadden credit, she has been very proactive on this matter. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, has responded to the requests of this House. I will ask him to come to the House to present a report to the Chamber on that matter.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of direct provision. His remarks which compare us to Nazi Germany are a bit unfair and are totally disingenuous. The two cannot be compared at all and his remark was a cheap shot.
This Government is committed to bringing the McMahon report to its finality in terms of implementing its recommendations, as was the previous Government.
The Leader has obviously not read the article.
It is important that we continue to advance the rights and conditions of the people. We all agree that this is not the way to house people.
Then the Leader should do something about it.
It ill behoves the Senator to take cheap shots at people and to use this as a political weapon.
Please allow the Leader to respond.
I thank the Leader.
I am very much of the same view as the Senator. Direct provision is a blight on our-----
The Leader should do something about it.
We are doing something. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has been before the House. The Senator knows full well there has been a litany of changes made by the Government. He should advance those changes rather than come to the House with the Sinn Féin script, opposing everything.
People have a right to work.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of disability and young people in nursing homes. The point he made on the number of young people in nursing homes is one on which we should actively promote change. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, for coming to the House today to discuss the disability strategy. I gave the Senator a commitment to have this debate early in the term and to be fair to the Minister of State, and not just because he is here, he is very much of the view that he should come here to debate with us in respect of issues relating to his Department. I thank him for that.
Senator Noone raised the issue of VAT on sun beds and sun cream. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, or the Minister, Deputy Harris, would have a view on that. We must reduce the numbers of people who develop skin cancer. The prevalence of skin cancer is increasing. We need to be very vigilant and very strong in sending a message in respect of that issue. Senator Noone's point is valid.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of breast feeding and the initiative which the HSE has ended. We have one of the lowest rates of breast feeding in the world. Even in the city of Dublin there is a disparity between south, north, east and west. There are discrepancies across the country, between urban and rural, and east and west. We need to examine why that is happening. I am of the view that the HSE's five-year action plan needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, updated and changed. I cannot give the Senator an explanation as to why the initiative was stopped, but I would be happy to have that debate, if possible, in a couple of weeks' time.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of the rates of valuation. That is continuing and we are seeing, in some cases, a positive change, although in other cases we are not. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House.
Senator Butler raised the issue of diabetes and the need for an open day in Leinster House. I am sure the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission will be anxious to work with all of us to ensure that we get the message out about diabetes, along with skin cancer. We can play a role in that. The Government is looking at the issue of a sugar tax and we have also seen the issue of school meals being addressed by the Government in recent days. It is important to recognise that. We can make a change ourselves in respect of diabetes and our eating habits, collectively and individually.
Senator O'Donnell raised the issue of the post offices, which is a very important issue. The heart of our communities used to be the post office. That is no longer the case in some areas. We have had the Bobby Kerr report. We have also had the implementation strategy, which needs to be implemented now to preserve the vitality and protect the future of post offices. If that means community banking, changing how we do business, then let us be open to that. It will require leadership and it will require, if I may say, someone of the calibre of Senator O'Donnell, who did a very fine report on death and dying, to perhaps become the spokesperson and ambassador, along with all of us. There is a need for a quantum shift in opinion as to how we can continue to have our post offices at the heart of our community. I would be happy to have that debate again in the future. It is one that we cannot ignore and cannot walk away from.
I thank and congratulate Senator Warfield on going to Pozna at the weekend and for his stellar role as a promoter of human rights across the world. We all share his view regarding the issue of fascism and the issue of different viewpoints around the world. We must challenge the views of some people in the pursuit of human rights. I hope to go to Iran next week, and I certainly will not be found wanting in the promotion of human rights and in the call to have LGBT rights recognised around the world. If that is unpopular in certain parts of the world then that is the risk we must take because we cannot be silent regarding human rights. I commend the Senator on that, and I would be happy to have a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, in the coming months.
Senators Mulherin and Coghlan made reference to the all-Ireland success of the Castlebar Golf Club and the role of our iar-hCathaoirleach, friend and colleague, Senator Paddy Burke. I am glad that we have had one all-Ireland success from Mayo this year. I pay tribute to Senator Burke for his leadership in that team. For those who do not know, the Jimmy Bruen Shield is a very prestigious tournament in the golfing world.
Well done Dublin.
It is all-Ireland for a reason. Dublin was not involved in the final.
It is the first time in the 107 year history of Castlebar Golf Club that it has won the Jimmy Bruen Shield, and it is one that many people aspire to win.
I congratulate Baile Átha Cliath on its successful retention of the Sam Maguire and its ladies team, which also won the all-Ireland last weekend.
The team is in the Mansion House tonight.
I also congratulate Tipperary on winning the intermediate title, Galway on winning the all-Ireland hurling final and Cork on winning the all-Ireland camogie final. The one thing we see on Sundays in August and September is that our country is united in sport. We put aside our county rivalries and are united in sport. It was fitting to see the young player from Derry last weekend getting engaged on the field in Croke Park. Is it not great that on an all-Ireland final day we can have revelry and sport and love along with competition?
Senator Mulherin also asked that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House to discuss the issue of the clocking of cars. The figures she gave were worrying, namely, that 18% or 12,000 cars have been tampered with. We need to see action taken on this issue.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of a school asthma programme. I am not familiar with the issue he raised, but I would be happy to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the sexual offences Bill and the attacks on sex workers. They are vulnerable and are victimised, and I would be happy to have the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, come to the House for a debate. There are diverging views on that Bill. Senator McDowell had a very strong line on that Bill. The Bill is a good one and will achieve what it set out to do. We will have that debate to review it.
I congratulate Senator Hopkins on her marriage to Francis and wish them many happy years of married bliss together. I join with her in calling for a debate on mental health and the report concerning Roscommon. She is correct that there is a need within the HSE for a cultural change around how it does its business, in this case in relation to mental health services.
I am very happy to join with Senator Devine and all Members of the House in congratulating Fr. Joe Mallin on his birthday today.
It was last week.
As the only surviving child of the executed leaders in 1916, it is important we recognise, acknowledge, pay tribute and thank him. I wish him lá breithe sona dó.
Some Senators do not like to hear good news, but on the issue Senator Devine raised regarding the Simon Community health report, I make the point again that this year the Government has given an additional €2 million to the HSE to expand in-reach services across temporary accommodation facilities. In addition, the HSE has been given an extra €1.5 million in funding this year for services for people who are homeless, to assist them and to support their lives. Furthermore, those vulnerable homeless people who have mental health and addiction issues are being given access to a range of health care services and supports, such as GPs, case management and nursing services. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is committed to seeking addition funding in the Estimates for 2018 which will bring an increase in spending in the health care services and supports for homeless persons to €36 million, in line with commitments in Rebuilding Ireland. This will represent an increase of 16.5% on actual expenditure. That is no small amount of change. The Sinn Féin narrative is sometimes-----
This is the Dublin Simon Community's narrative.
-----the one dimensional speech that the politburo issue and it cannot change.
That is the Dublin Simon Community narrative. Correct the record please.
Perhaps the Senator might acknowledge that money is being spent.
Correct the record. This is the Dublin Simon Community's narrative.
The Senator should speak through the chair, please.
I apologise. This is the Dublin Simon Community's narrative, not Sinn Féin's.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of local government budgets and cited different budgets. The Senator will know that it depends on a variety of factors as to where and how that distribution of local government funding is done, and I am sure the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, who shares the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny with her, will not be found wanting in the allocation of funding for that area.
I join with Senator Colm Burke in congratulating University College Cork on its announcement today of its €350 million strategic plan and give him a commitment that we will have the Minister with responsibility for nuclear research come to the House. I cannot give him an answer as to why we are not a member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, but I am happy to have that debate in the House.
Senator Ó Donghaile made reference to Act na Gaelige and the seven days of action. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, must be commended on his leadership in showing that the Irish language is very important to us as a society and as a nation. This Government has shown that the Irish language is important, and I commend all involved. I am always happy to wear red, as a Corkman, but I do not believe that we should use the Irish language as a weapon because it is important we inculcate in all our citizens, North and South, a love for our language and our culture, and we should bring people on a journey as well. That is something that we can do.
That is part of it.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referenced the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which I am a member of, and I join with him in congratulating Senator Noone. The Taoiseach is perfectly correct to outline that we will have a referendum on the eighth amendment, although he has not said what that referendum will be about. Preparation for the referendum forms part of the work of the committee. There are different viewpoints regarding whether to repeal, replace or keep it. That is fine, but we should have that national conversation. Senator Noone is chairing in the committee and Senators Devine and Ruane are members of it. It is important to allow for the fact that Government must prepare, and today it has given an indicative date for the different matters that will be put to the people.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Swanick raised the issue of the independence referendum in Catalonia. I welcome their commitment to the minority position in Catalonia. I am not sure that Government has a position regarding-----
The majority of parliament voted for it.
I am not sure if Government has a position regarding the referendum in Catalonia nor am I sure that the Catalonian people want to opt out of Spain, and I am reluctant to get into a debate on the matter. Sometimes it is good to listen to all sides of the debate. A decision was made by the courts at the weekend that must be upheld and supported, and I am not going to get into a debate on it today.
It was a democratic decision by a majority of parliament.
I recognise the right of all sides to have an opinion. In Spain there are certain conditions which must be met to allow for a referendum but reading the situation from afar, these have not been met. It is important, however, to allow people to have their voices heard.
Could we invite the Minister in to discuss it?
I will ask the Minister to come to the House but it might be more judicious to raise this as a Commencement matter. It might be quicker in terms of getting the Minister in because I know that he will be away next week on Government business. It might be an idea for the Senator to raise it as a Commencement matter this week if he can but I will try to get the Minister to come to the House.
I thank Members for their endurance today and I also thank everyone involved in getting the Chamber ready for today. I apologise to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for holding him up. I also apologise to those in the Visitors' Gallery but the 29 Members of the House deserve to have a response to the matters they raised on the Order of Business.