The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the referral to the joint committee of the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution, to be debated on the conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 2, statements on housing, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
Today I would like to raise two matters, the first being respite services and the second being the rail strike. With regard to respite services, there are over 360,000 people who act as carers. They have been very badly affected by funding cuts and staff shortages. The result is that many carers are often left in a position in which they have no time off, which is having a negative impact on their physical and mental health. The report by Family Carers Ireland reveals that the lack of support, including the reduction in respite services, was leaving many carers struggling. In June of this year, our colleague, Senator Colm Burke, said the crisis in respite care will worsen if people live longer and as carers age. Lack of respite was, as he said, an accruing problem that will not go away.
HIQA inspections have resulted to date in respite centres closing down as they are not fit for purpose. No alternatives have been offered by this Government to these families, who really appreciate these vital services. The Taoiseach has spoken about giving back in the budget and I hope that some of the most vulnerable, the home carers, will be acknowledged and that their incredible hard work will be recognised through increased funding for respite care. Home carers take a large amount of pressure off the HSE and this should really be recognised by the Government. I ask the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach to come to this House to outline exactly what they intend to do to meet the needs of those who use respite services.
We all know the pay negotiations between Irish Rail staff collapsed at the WRC and that rail strikes look like they are coming down the tracks. Strikes could begin as soon as the October bank holiday weekend and this, as we know, will cause serious disruption over the coming weeks. The two main drivers' unions are seeking pay increases of 3.75% without any associated productivity measures, and this is in line with the pay increase given to Dublin Bus workers, which seems fair enough. It is understood that the workers were offered an increase of 1.5%, accompanied by 19 different measures, including the outsourcing of work, loss of contracted hours, relocation of staff, closure of booking offices, and new performance management systems.
Mr. Dermot O'Leary, one of the chief negotiators, said that unless the staff get a credible offer, they want to see a ballot paper. This issue has been coming down the line for a long time and it is incumbent on the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, to address it. He has sat and done nothing for too long, and I do not believe it is credible for him not to intervene at all in this industrial relations disaster. I call on the Minister to come to the House to explain exactly what he is doing to address this matter as doing nothing is not an option.
I hope the Leader will organise a debate on national rehabilitation services in Ireland. I have raised this on a number of occasions. The Leader's colleagues, on the other side of the House, have raised it. We now have a serious problem. We have had commitments given to us in Seanad Éireann on the delivery of beds. There were ten beds closed at Christmas in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. We were given commitments. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, was in the House. One will remember that we refused to approve the Order of Business for the day and eventually the Minister of State had to come in after tea on the day in question, at the Leader's request. I thank the Leader for organising and facilitating it at the time.
This matter was discussed in January and again in April, May and June of this year. We have seen commitments that there would be a phased reopening of the ten beds. If one examines the capacity, one notes there are fewer than 100 beds in the facility. Therefore, some 10% of the beds were closed down under the watch of this Government this year, in January. The bottom line is that we were then told that they would be re-opened on a phased basis, four by the summer.
Yesterday I received a telephone call again from contacts in the hospital who work there who say they are totally frustrated about all the excuses and arguments about recruitment, resources, etc. What is really more critical and a great scandal is that patients are waiting in a queue for beds trying to gain access to the national rehabilitation services in Dún Laoghaire. It is a pathetic debate to be talking about re-opening four of ten beds that were closed in January. All the beds are required.
There has been a plan for years about demolishing the place and building a new hospital. Despite three or four Ministers for health and three or four relevant Ministers and Deputies in the constituency, nothing has happened. We need a greater debate on the rehabilitation services for the whole country and on how regional services are fed into the national service at the rehabilitation hospital. Excuses and re-opening four beds, when ten were closed in January, are an absolute disgrace. This is an indictment of our health service. It needs to be addressed. Given that we now have time on our schedule in our Seanad in which to do business, we could address this important matter. I ask that the Leader arrange for the Minister with direct responsibility for this area of government to come into the House to explain the rationale for the closures in Dún Laoghaire and, more important, the short, medium and long-term plans for a roll out of a comprehensive rehabilitation service.
I want to say how dismayed I was yesterday over the hysterical rant from Mr. O'Donovan to my request that capital expenditure address the huge infrastructure deficit in rural areas.
It was totally unacceptable and it should never happen again in this House. He never addressed any of the issues I raised about Knock airport, the development of a proper hospital in Galway, roads infrastructure or broadband infrastructure. Instead he engaged in a huge rant against Sinn Féin. He should be able to come into the House as a Minister of State and address these very important issues. I will leave it to the people of rural Ireland and the people of the west to judge how competent he is as a Minister of State making vital decisions that affect our future. It should never be allowed to happen here and I hope it never happens again.
Speaking about infrastructure in the west of Ireland, I was very disappointed to read today in the Tuam Herald about Deputy Micheál Martin's endorsement of the greenway between Tuam and Athenry. We and the western rail corridor action group have been campaigning for years to bring back the train services to have proper connectivity all along the west coast. Fianna Fáil might be throwing up its hands at this and stating it will not happen and that the investment in infrastructure is not needed in the west but we in Sinn Féin will keep up the fight for rural Ireland to have proper infrastructure and proper rail services. The excuse is used that not enough people are using the rail services but if the timetabling is not right the investment is not put into it and it is not there to suit the public. That means the people are not able to use it. It is just another example of Fianna Fáil kowtowing to Fine Gael's neglect of the west and it is not acceptable.
The other issue I want to speak about today is physiotherapy. I commend my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, for bringing forward today our prebudget submission on rights and equality and prioritising people with disabilities. We must be on the side of people with disabilities. The measure I wish to speak about is the employment of 600 additional front-line staff, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists, and the expenditure of €32.76 million to engage these extra staff who are needed. This is vital for all areas, including the west and Mayo. At present, we see where we do not have the physiotherapy or occupational therapy needed for children with disabilities and adults with disabilities. They have been clinically assessed as needing weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, physiotherapy and they are not getting it. In my area people have to do a round trip of 100 miles just to access a physiotherapist. This is not right and it needs to be addressed. I am very glad it is addressed in our prebudget submission, which is fully costed to show how it can be done if the Government will is there to do it.
The first issue I wish to raise relates to articles I have read in recent days on a French law to be enacted next month. It raises an important conversation point and I would like the Leader to bring in the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to discuss it. The law will stipulate that images of models who have been altered in any way to make them appear thinner in magazines and the media must come with a caution in the text. Getty Images has gone one step further and banned photoshopped pictures. It is an important conversation to have because it feeds into a wider debate on the narrative and message we send young women about how they should and should not look. Magazines should be transparent with regard to their use of photoshopped photographs. It would be an important discussion to have.
I also wish to raise the issue of young people entering education through paths other than the CEO system. A young girl contacted me recently. The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund has paid for her to study in the film academy because it believes she has talent. The problem is the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has removed her jobseeker's allowance and will not allow her access education. This young woman from west Tallaght is trying to work her way out of poverty, but she is left with no alternative but to give up the course or continue it without any payment to survive. This begs the question as to how we move people off the live register. Instead of looking to the Department of Education and Skills perhaps we could bring in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to discuss its role in access to education and moving people out of poverty. I call for a debate with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on her role in access to education.
I lend my voice and support to the calls this week for progress on Seanad reform.
Yesterday, I spoke about the baby friendly health initiative being paused and its funding being discontinued, and the importance of increasing breastfeeding rates in this country. I asked the Leader to organise bringing the Minister to the House for a debate. It will take far too long for the Minister to come to the House so I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ask the Minister to meet, as quickly as possible, the independent voluntary group that has run the initiative so well for the past 20 years to allow it to put its case directly to the Minister. It would be much more helpful to the baby friendly health initiative and much better for the women and babies of this country to get it back up and running as quickly as possible.
We have all seen the rail and transport crisis throughout the country. All of the signals over the past six months are that we will see major industrial problems in public transport. I am very disappointed with regard to the appointment of chairpersons for various Government transport bodies. The term of Ultan Courtney, the chairman of Dublin Bus, expired on 22 September 2017. The term of Philip Gaffney, chairman of Iarnród Éireann, expired on 8 July 2017. The term of Aidan Murphy, chairman of Bus Éireann, expired on 9 July 2017. The term of John Fitzgerald, a member of the National Transportation Authority, expired on 31 May 2017. The term of Vivienne Jupp as chairman of CIE expired on 9 July 2014, which is a bit worrying. The term of John Power, chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council, expired on 30 September 2017. These are very concerning. It has been flagged since we had strikes in the Luas that there is huge dissatisfaction in transport, on the very basis that we have a Minister who is quite happy to spout on about public appointments rather than make them. Three of those posts were dealt with at the most recent Cabinet meeting, but the appointees have yet to go before the committees.
We have ended up with a Minister who has no interest whatsoever in being the Minister with responsibility for transport. He is either inept or incompetent or he just does not care. We need action because people depend on public transport to get to work every day. We need a good public transport service if we are to deal with the climate crisis facing Ireland. The transport sector has been increasing its carbon footprint over the past two years but we have seen little or no action. If we were to mark the Minister's scorecard we would probably have to give him two out of ten so far.
Am I generous? I thank the Senator. We need action. On the most recent occasions the Minister has come to the House we have heard all about the Rugby World Cup and very little about public transport. The inaction in filling these positions shows how unconcerned he is about the travelling public of this country.
I support Senator Humphrey's comments on breastfeeding, which is an issue I have raised in the House on a number of occasions. It is a vital issue for the health of our young people.
I agree entirely with Senator Lynn Ruane's comments on photoshopping and filtering, and I think it might work in the context of a debate on Internet safety and teenagers using the Internet because it is an issue I raised around self worth with Instagram and Facebook and the perfect world that people portray online that is really affecting young people's perceptions of themselves. It could be a very interesting debate to have.
The annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention was launched yesterday. It was stated that while the number of suicides has stabilised in recent years, there is still an alarming number of people taking their own lives and self harming. I came across an interesting model that has been introduced in Michigan in the United States called a zero suicide model, which has been introduced in hospitals and clinics, whereby once people present themselves in a clinic or hospital, even if it is for a broken ankle or some sort of a virus, they are assessed by being asked a few simple questions, which would be indicators as to the state of their mental health and if any issues are identified they are then referred on. It is just part of the overall process. According to UNICEF, Ireland has the fourth highest rate of teen suicide in the European Union. In recent years there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of suicides among mental health patients, lowering well below the national average in Michigan. In just over a decade, the implementation of this model has resulted in a drop in suicide by mental health patients from 89 people in 100,000 to 16 people in 100,000. That is a very significant reduction and many health insurance companies have given it their backing. I think it is a very interesting proposal. By assessing all patients as having potential mental health risk, whatever their reasons for being in hospital, suicide prevention can receive a significant boost. If the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Jim Daly comes to the House, this would be an interesting aspect of mental health to discuss with him.
As Members will be aware, this week has been designated Positive Aging Week. People are living longer. The Budget Statement will be announced in two weeks time and we will be looking for a fair budget for older people, a budget that recognises the contributions made in the past decades by more than 600,000 workers, those who worked in the home and in business who are all now pensioners.
The income provided by the State old age pension and the household benefit package today is still less than it was in 2009. Cuts to income supports such as the fuel allowance, the telephone allowance, combined with rising prices and new taxes are driving even more older people into poverty. Waiting lists for home help services are growing rapidly and result in the failure to provide decent home care. An old age pensioner with a medical card must pay €2.50 for each item that is dispensed on prescription, and this can be up to €25 a month for those on a lot of medication. We need to see more support for older people. We need to increase the number of home help hours to provide the service to an additional 22,500 people in 2018 and also we need to introduce a reliable programme to support 16,000 older people to live independently. I think that is crucial. As we know, people are living longer and the services are not there. We need to ensure in this budget that we provide a service for all elderly people, the people who contributed by paying their taxes. I hope that people will support this suggestion, as I believe we need to do so.
On the supplementary Order Paper there is a proposal to refer the 2014 report of the Convention on the Constitution to a committee in respect of housing and the Constitution. It seems to me that we have a rash of proposals for constitutional change now. Stephen Collins in The Irish Times today queries whether we should scrap the Constitution completely as there are so many amendments being proposed to it.
The Constitution is not some kind of message board for a Government that floats ideas to distract us from the real issues. The Constitution is the basic set of rules by which this society is operated. It does not need to be tinkered with constantly. Let me take one example, and I am sure I will offend some people in the House who are on the side of political correctness, the idea of giving votes to people at the age of 16 years is rubbish. If it is illegal to sell a person of 16 years a scratch card for the national lottery, if they cannot go into a public house, if they are incapable of entering into a contract in law, and if the asylum seekers of 16 years are counted as children, the idea of giving children a vote is nonsense. It is a distraction. Furthermore it will be defeated comprehensively in the same way as the foolish idea of reducing the age of the presidential candidates from 35 years to 21 years was defeated by the people. We need less of this gimmickry nonsense. The proposal to abolish the Seanad was not taken out of any conviction, it was a pure vote-getting stunt at a particular time in Fine Gael's internal politics, nothing more. I suggest that instead of taking all of these proposals seriously and talking about rafts of referendums in the next number of years, we get on with governing this country under the present Constitution. The present Constitution is preventing us from doing nothing at the moment that we want to do. There is no provision in the present Constitution, perhaps with the exception of the eighth amendment, which we are dealing with, that is impeding the proper governance of this country. All of this projecting on to the Constitution wish lists of socially desirably things is fundamentally mistaken. To give to the Judiciary any function whatsoever in determining the allocation of resources between housing and health is probably one of the most stupid ideas that has ever been canvassed by anybody. The Judiciary is not suited to make those decisions. The members of the Judiciary are incapable of making those decisions. The allocation of resources is the political process and it remains in Leinster House for that function to be carried out. Let us stop all this game playing with the Constitution. Let us get on with governing the State.
In respect of the previous speaker's points, I am sure he would not wish the Government to fail to promote discussion and debate on many of these issues.
I wish to raise with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the public transport system in north Dublin and the planned electrification of the line down to Balbriggan and on to Drogheda. The growth of population in this corridor has been the fastest and largest in the country as is borne out in the past number of censuses. It is very clear we have an opportunity to put facilities in place before we find ourselves unable to cope. It is in the Government's capital plan and is due for completion in 2022. I wonder if the Leader could get the Minister to come into the House to tell us what has been done to date, that is whether the design technical work is complete; when will the business plan be finalised; and whether there is an estimated cost and the date for submitting a railway order from An Bord Pleanála.
I wish to raise another issue in respect of the people of Rush, who are very pleased that Irish Water and the Government are putting in new sewage treatment plants to deal with the clear deficit that has been there for decades and that we will see the return of clean beaches and that people can now allow their children build on the small pockets of land around Rush that could not have been developed and also to allow for further housing. There is a major problem in that some of the works have now resulted in the closure of a road between Rush and Skerries and this is providing very difficult. In conjunction with Irish Water, they put in place a shuttle bus service, but I would like to know why Dublin Bus is not bringing the bus to Rush which it used to do historically and turn around down near the health centre. What has really upset people is that there is no shuttle bus to link the Nitelink to Rush and all the people who are working on shift work in Dublin Airport and many other areas now have no means of getting home late at night.
Perhaps when the Minister is here he might address that issue also. I hope the Leader will bring him to the House to address these matters.
I refer to the motion we received at 7 p.m. yesterday from the Government on the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution. I propose an amendment to the motion as there is something very wrong. The idea that key topics such as the right to housing, disability support services and linguistic and cultural rights should all be referred to the finance committee is quite bizarre, but the idea that we should do so without debate is more than that - it borders on making a mockery of this House. Many Members know that we are only due to sit for two days next week. In that context, surely before the Government side moves the motion, we should have a debate on the issue. This is a debating chamber, is it not? It was the last time I checked. To use a phrase the Leader likes to use, I do not wish to divide the House. If he is willing to grant us time next week to debate the matter, we will not push our amendment to a vote. It is entirely inappropriate to push a motion such a this without debating it. It makes a mockery of the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution. Senator James Reilly mentioned the importance of debate in the Chamber. Surely, therefore, we can all agree that before the eighth report of the convention is pushed to the finance committee, effectively to consider the important matters referred to on a cost basis, we should have a debate on the matter. I ask the Leader to be reasonable and recognise the fact that we have an extra day for debate next week. Will he allow a debate to take place so as not to divide the House on the matter? We disagree fundamentally with the proposition put forward by the Government. It was bordering on cynical to slip it through at 7 p.m. yesterday evening on the basis that it would be considered without debate. If I am wrong, I am sure the Leader will be generous enough to say we can debate the matter next week with the extra time available. It is embarrassing that we are only due to sit for two days next week; therefore, let us take advantage and do what we are being paid to do and debate the matter next week.
There is much more to be embarrassed about than that.
Senator Paul Gavan will formally propose the amendment when we seek agreement on the Order of Business. I will allow him to do so.
I wish to respond to Senator Catherine Noone's input regarding the fall in suicide rates. The Government should immediately acknowledge that the suicide rates have fallen owing to the efforts of at least 500 charities that have suicide prevention and intervention programmes. The Senator suggested using a new model from Michigan that is supposed to decrease the rates of suicide further, but I wonder if she knows that those aged between 16 and 18 years are not catered for in this country? If a 16-year-old child goes to the emergency department in one of the children's hospitals, he or she will be turned away as they are deemed to be too old to be seen. If he or she goes to an adult hospital in distress, he or she will be turned away as he or she is not regarded as an adult. Where do such children go? Before we think of any model, let us get the HSE's services to embrace these children, among whom the rate of suicide is the fourth highest in Europe.
I raise again a matter I mentioned just prior to the recess. It is the very pressing matter of farm safety and farm-related deaths. Unfortunately, last week there were two more fatalities, bringing the total to 17 for the year gone by. As somebody who is very involved in the national ploughing championships, it is telling that on the first day of that event, one of the deaths was of Mr. Martin Kehoe, a former ploughing champion. I extend my sympathy to all of the families that have suffered a bereavement through a farm accident, particularly the Kehoe family in County Wexford.
I tried to have the issue of farm safety examined and discussed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food. I was told that it was not possible to discuss it as the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, came within the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I do not want to use the phrase too loosely, but on the day I got the impression that we were playing football with such a serious issue which to an extent has been kicked to touch by the agriculture committee as apparently it falls to be discussed by the Minister with responsibility for enterprise and employment. It might be unprecedented, but I ask the Leader to bring both Ministers to the House for a full and frank debate on the matter. We must stop kicking the ball and receive an action plan from both Departments. The HSA may come within the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, but this is an agricultural matter. It is no longer acceptable to be told on going to one side that we should be at the other. There have been 17 deaths and we have not yet reached 1 October. Something must be done. I have raised the matter on numerous occasions. A previous committee which was chaired by the Cathaoirleach produced a fantastic report that I have read and it included an action plan to promote farm safety. However, it is sitting on a shelf somewhere and no action is being taken.
When the Leader meets the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I ask him to plead strongly with the Minister to extend the slurry spreading deadline from 15 October. This is related to my last point, as issues such calendar dates and deadlines put farmers under pressure. We are all aware of the extremely inclement weather conditions we have had in the past fortnight and three weeks, in particular. They put farmers under pressure to do work that is unsuitable. Slurry spreading must be carried out by 15 October, which increases the risk of accidents and fatalities occurring. Elements such as this could be changed as they are not major milestones. Moving a date on the calendar would eliminate the added risk in farmers having to finish a job by a certain date which they cannot do because of weather conditions.
Tacáim leis an leasú a chuir an Seanadóir Gavan. It may not necessarily be the appropriate point at which to do so, but I second the amendment proposed to the Order of Business by my colleague, Senator Paul Gavan. He outlined better than I ever could the reasons this debating chamber and we, as parliamentarians and legislators, at the very least should have an expectation that we will have an opportunity to debate and engage on matters raised in the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution. We might debate the matter if the Leader agrees, but just in case he does not, it is baffling why such a comprehensive report would be referred to the finance committee alone. What is going to examine the issue of cultural and linguistic rights, for example? There is a much more appropriate committee to which the report should be referred. It should be broken down into the various appropriate elements to be referred to committees. As Senator Paul Gavan rightly pointed out, we are due to sit for only two days next week and we only came back this week. Members of this Chamber rather glibly and in an ill-informed fashion have told Sinn Féin to get back to work in the Assembly in the North. We need to get back to work properly in this institution. It is not good enough that, as a House of the Oireachtas, we will sit for two days next week after only returning this week. People will begin to look with understandable disdain at this Chamber if we continue to operate in that fashion. They will wonder what exactly we are doing.
With regard to the proposal that No. 1 be taken without debate, we have just had a Supplementary Order Paper delivered to us which includes an amendment tabled by Sinn Féin. In the light of the fact that the amendment will be moved, it seems there should be a discussion on the matter. While I recognise that the Leader has indicated that there is provision for Seanad Éireann to consider the report at a later stage, even so, the tabling of the amendment is a significant factor.
I refer to Statutory Instrument No. 394 of 2017, Education Support Centres (Appointment and Secondment of Directors) Regulations 2017. It was signed by the Minister for Education and Skills on 1 September and can only be discussed within 21 sitting days. In that light, I ask the Leader to urgently make provision for a debate on the regulations in order that proposals may be tabled for their amendment.
I have received correspondence from the Drumcondra Education Centre and they are very concerned about regulations which seek to limit the tenure of a director to no more than five years. This will have a negative impact on the running of places like the Drumcondra Education Centre. Five years is not sufficient time to allow them to plan for the identification of the local community's school needs or to devise an appropriate response strategy, including the design and delivery of training and development programmes for teachers and the wider school community at local level. Nor is it enough time to build capacity to ensure good governance and effective financial management of the centre, or to manage centre staff to allow them to reach their potential and contribute meaningfully to the development of the centre.
Building and developing networks and sustainable relations and organising continuing professional development for teachers and education personnel are core to the work of a director so I am looking for a debate on this. I will put down an amendment to change the provision under which a secondment cannot exceed five school years, with a section saying the position of education centre director is a seconded position for leading and managing CPD provision within the Department of Education and Skills CPD framework. Secondment will be for an initial period of five years with the right to reapply for a consecutive further five years.
The Minister for Education and Skills has already granted this principle with regard to teachers because, in reply to a parliamentary question, he said such extensions may apply where a seconded teacher is engaged in a leadership role and has a specialism or expertise where retention is necessary for continuity, quality planning and management. He said that the implementation of this policy is a matter for the services concerned and the relevant sections of his Department. The parallel with teachers and the education centre director is very clear and the Minister has stated, on the record, that the reappointment of a director of a public body for a second term is consistent with Government policy applying to public bodies generally.
I ask the Leader to make provision for debate so that this matter can be discussed and the appropriate amendment tabled.
I wish to raise something that is connected to debate in general. We are a House that debates issues and airs our views freely on behalf of our electorate and the public. We are all democrats and I was alarmed this week to learn that, for the second time in a week, a democratic meeting in a Dublin hotel premises, being held by two women who are survivors of rape, was cancelled because a mob calling themselves, and disguised as, liberals berated the hotel with all sorts of messages and closed down freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We live in a democracy and a major issue will be facing the electorate in a referendum next May or June, according to the Taoiseach. The referendum should go before the people in a manner that is acceptable to everyone. The debate should be considered, all views need to be taken into consideration and no one's opinion should be greater than another's. Unfortunately, freedom of speech and expression is being blocked by a tiny minority in society. The population of Ireland is losing out as a large number of people will not get to hear the opinions as a result.
We fought for democracy and freedom of speech is enshrined in our Constitution under Article 40.6.1°. Stalin was in favour of freedom of speech but only if he agreed with the views being expressed. Is that where we are going? If people on both sides of any argument, including on the eight amendment, are really in favour of freedom of speech they have to tolerate the argument they despise - otherwise they are not in favour of freedom of speech. It galls me that a tiny mob in our society here in Dublin is blocking freedom of expression and freedom of opinion to the extent that these women, who are survivors of rape, have to hold a public demonstration outside a hotel in a dark car park tonight because the hotel they had booked is refusing to host them. That is not the sort of society we should be promoting and they are not the values any democracy should stand for. If we are going to have a debate on any issue, including the eighth amendment, let us hear all the views equally.
I concur with what Senator Paul Gavan said. A couple of issues have passed through the House but not been discussed. I would not agree with all the points about it but it certainly needs to be discussed.
The Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has, from time to time, floated in the papers some ideas about VAT rates for small restaurants and hotels and he is doing the same again today. There has been talk that he is considering upping the rate from 9% to 10% or 12% but I have serious concerns with this. This is a sector that has been a really great story for the Government, which has had great success in the way it has handled it. There are some problems and some hotels will not be happy until they eat the goose that lays the golden egg with their prices, and there are some rogue hotels in this regard. This is very evident in the reduction in numbers from Britain. There have been fluctuations in the currency and Brexit, among other things, has had an effect but the pricing of hotel rooms is a major factor. I call on the Leader to talk to the Minister about this. The Restaurants Association of Ireland has professionally costed a 1% rise from 9% to 10% and learned that it would cost 6,000 jobs - a substantial number. If rogue hotels are overcharging, the Minister could tackle this in better ways than upping the VAT rate.
I support Senator Freeman's call in respect of 16-18 year olds in our mental health service with nowhere to go. Any initiative is welcome but we need to solidify things for those young people. I wish to talk about rights and equality for the disabled. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are trying to outdo each other with promises of tax cuts prior to the budget but they need to realise that they will take from the over 600,000 people in this country who have a disability. There is education, travel and all aspects of life but I wish to concentrate on housing adaptation grants. This morning, Sinn Féin launched plans for an extra €30 million - a 50% increase - for grant schemes. Some 1,200 people under the age of 65 are inappropriately placed in nursing homes and last year an 18 year old, who had a tragic accident and was left in a wheelchair, had to go to a nursing home because there was no adaptation. I ask Members to imagine that 18 year old, looking at his future from a nursing home bed. This is a human rights issue. We will hopefully dust down the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. Where is it at this point? Does an 18 year old have consent if he is sent somewhere when there is nowhere else for him to go? Home is where the heart lives and these people need to be there. We need to think about our 50% increase in the budget for adaptation grants as it is prudent, cost-effective and will respect people with disability and give them a full life to look forward to.
I wish to acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of former Senator, Michael Mullins. Tá fáilte romhat. It is nice to see former Members coming back here.
The former Senator is always welcome. I call Senator Rónán Mullen.
I would also like to welcome the family connection in the Gallery.
I second and thank Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill for what he said this morning. I met the very fine people that are in a group, Unbroken, this morning. All of them have a personal story to tell that connects in with the horror of rape and the very difficult subject of abortion. To think that people who generously give of their time and courageously tell their story, which is not an easy thing to do, would be denied the opportunity of doing so in a public space, like a hotel, because of highly manipulative and abusive campaigning behind the scenes to deprive them of a platform is horrific. The situation does connect in with a wider problem in western society, and it happens here in Ireland. I refer to the tendency to give no platform to people one disagrees with. I happen to know that the Gibson Hotel, the Spencer Hotel and I think, in the context of another gathering that touched on the abortion issue from a pro-life perspective, the Ashling Hotel, have all found themselves cancelling events and denying space in recent days to groups. I do not think any of those groups were in the business of saying or doing anything disruptive. They were telling their truth, as they see it, according to the facts as they have them.
I intend to take this matter further. I will try to talk to people of goodwill, who may or may not agree with my point of view on these issues, to see can we draw attention to the danger to free speech and respectful debate that does exist when something like this happens. I personally feel that the media is lacking. If the shoe were on the other foot and the media was on a different side of the argument this situation would be all over the Joe Duffy show. Whether I am right or wrong on that aspect, I ask people who disagree with me to at least join with me in saying that people must be allowed access to public space. Campaigns of this kind, that are designed to deprive people of a platform, pressurising hotel managers using social media, and perhaps telling untruths about the groups that propose to meet, are utterly unhelpful and it is not going to be good for our society.
I will briefly outline what I came here to say today. There is something tragic about the fall from grace of Aung San Suu Kyi. Even more tragic is the plight of the Rohingya Muslims and the horrors that have taken place. In Myanmar, some 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled. We have heard stories of soldiers raping women, decapitating children and setting whole villages ablaze. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi was a hero of democracy and in many ways is still the best hope for democracy in that country. She has found herself unable to stand up to the military to the point of being disingenuous. She has condemned human rights abuses in general but failed to talk about the specifics. It is a tragedy for her and it is a tragedy for Myanmar. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has spoken on this issue. It is of such importance that we should debate it in this House. I hope that a debate can be arranged in early course with the Minister attending.
I will begin by referencing the ridiculous comparison drawn by Senator McDowell between gambling and alcohol with voting. One has a negative impact while the other has a positive impact.
I rise today to say that we need a national AIDS memorial. Today, HIV Ireland marks its 30th anniversary. Since 1987, the organisation has championed sex education and focused on improving services and conditions for people who live with HIV and their caregivers. HIV Ireland held a conference this morning that was attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. At the event the organisation called for a national AIDS memorial to be created. As many as 35 million people have died from AIDS worldwide and, tragically, people are still dying of AIDS. As many as 8,000 in Ireland have been diagnosed with the disease since the early 1980s. Although treatment has improved a significant stigma remains around being HIV positive.
Ireland should join regions like New York city and Toronto that have created beautiful visual memorials. We should create a memorial to maintain and preserve our heritage. Let us end the stigma in Ireland and live in a healthier present and be at peace. I ask that we move forward towards a consultation process where we do all we can to encourage a conversation in civil society and achieve these goals in the next five or so years. I ask the Leader to support my request for a debate in this Chamber with the Minister of State present. Such a debate would allow progress to be made. It would recognise the lives lost and the grief and sorrow of those left behind. It would also allow us to combat the present stigma and discrimination.
That concludes the speakers. Before I call on the Leader to respond I must say that a number of speakers have raised the motion that has been proposed here today by Senator Jerry Buttimer and is listed on a supplementary Order Paper.
Ciúnas, le do thoil. I usually do not say a lot from the Chair but I was interrupted when I tried to make a point. I have been asked to abridge the normal four days that are allowed for a motion to be put in place here. I have been given no reasons as to why I should so abridge one way or another. There may be good and serious reasons why the Government is anxious that the motion is taken today, without debate. There is counter proposal. While the Leader is deliberating about a response he might consider the impact of such a move. He might also consider the fact that we will have 30 minutes or a little more of a sos between 12.45 p.m. and 1.15 p.m. for the next item. I am not sure if it is possible to facilitate the people who have sought a debate. As of now, I think it is unfair for the Cathaoirleach to be asked to abridge the normal time. Most days, day in and day out, I do not normally object. However, as Cathaoirleach, I must take objections, if any, into account. I am not sure why the motion is so urgent. I understand that the report has existed for three years. If there is urgency then I should be apprised of same. I say so not in any way to disparage the Leader or the Government side. At least three Sinn Féin Senators have objected as has, to some extent, Senator McDowell.
And Senator Norris. The objections should be taken on board. I have been asked to abridge. If I were a judge and asked to grant or not grant bail then one would be given a reason. I am totally in the dark as to why the motion is so urgent after the report has languished on a bench for three years. That is a personal observation. I normally do not make observations but I feel I have to in this instance.
I must also protect my impartiality. I have made my observation irrespective of who voiced objections. The Leader does not have to answer now but I simply ask him to reflect. Maybe there are very good reasons. I have not personally challenged the Leader. He is doing a good job in the circumstances.
I will commence by welcoming my friend and former Senator and colleague, Michael Mullins, to the House. He looks well post-life in the Seanad and it was good to meet him last night.
In terms of the motion, the Government requested that the motion be included in the Order Paper for today. I was certainly not aware of the abridging of the four day rule. I am happy to submit the motion again next week and not inconvenience the Cathaoirleach but it was agreed in the Dáil. There is a certain hypocrisy with Members of this House coming in here and questioning the motivation behind the motion. Have the Senators read the report and motion? I challenge Senator Gavan to read the last line of the motion that indicates it will come back to this House to be debated again. He used the word "generous" in his remarks.
The Government proposes to send it to the wrong committee and that is the point.
I did not interrupt the Senator.
Please allow me to continue.
The Leader has missed the point.
No, I have not missed the point. I am not grandstanding and merely reading out a script from headquarters.
Speaking of script, where did the Leader read that view?
The Leader is struggling this morning.
I am not struggling at all. Not a bit.
It sounds like it.
The motion will come back after the committee debates it.
Where does it come back from?
From the committee.
As directed by the motion.
The point is-----
The motion is being sent to the wrong committee.
-----I am happy to withdraw the motion and resubmit it again next week rather than-----
And have more debate.
No. I am happy to resubmit the motion rather then inconvenience the Cathaoirleach.
It is not an inconvenience for me. I have been asked to abridge. Under Standing Orders it normally takes four days but I have got 12 hours notice.
Normally I accede to these requests but when there is an objection, irrespective of from what party or Senator it comes, I must bear in mind why there is a rush. If I knew the reason for it, it might make my decision easier.
On a point of order, could the Cathaoirleach indicate to the Leader that there is not much point in bringing it back next week if it is to be taken then without debate. The point of the amendment is to get a discussion.
It is going to the committee but I will withdraw the motion on the basis that I do not want to infringe the rules regarding time length-----
We will have to have a discussion next week on the amendment.
I will withdraw the motion at the end of the Order of Business.
I thank the Senator. That makes my decision much easier.
I do not want to in any way discommode the Cathaoirleach or put him in a difficult position. He knows I do not do so as Leader and we work quite well together and he is independent in the House.
Senators Ardagh, Humphreys and Reilly raised the issue of transport and the pending rail strike. It is important that both sides re-engage in discussions. As Senators know quite well, the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court are the appropriate fora. No Member wants members of the travelling public discommoded or staff out of work. It is important that there be a continuation of talks and a resolution to the issue. There are varying viewpoints regarding the pay offer made by Iarnród Éireann and the workers' unions have a different viewpoint to that of management but it is about people and the future of Iarnród Éireann. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will not be found wanting and never has been. He is a very good Minister, as Senator Humphreys knows quite well,-----
I do not know that.
-----and is very competent and capable. I am happy for him to come to the House to discuss a variety of transport issues as Senator Reilly asked.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of respite care and struck a very important note with which I completely agree. In the forthcoming budget it is absolutely important that the emerging fruits of the economy are spent on people in a way that has tangible benefits and, in particular, for carers, whether family members or paid carers, and also those who require respite care, as mentioned by the Senator. There is an absolute need for further investment in that area. I know from discussions with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, that the issue of older people is being considered in the context of the budget because it is important, as Senator Murnane O'Connor rightly said, that we acknowledge the contribution that senior citizens have made to society and the community. All Members know people in respite care or in need of home care and who have needs that are not currently being met. We must ensure that the moneys we have in an economy that is now growing is spent wisely and prudently on people. The point that is being made and should be made is that now, if one looks at what the Government has done in terms of budgets in recent years, the Oireachtas, without the support of the Seanad because Members of the Opposition did not support Senators being included on the Committee on the Future of Healthcare, has a long-term vision for health and investment in it. It is important to note that all ESRI reports reference the demand on our health service. The former Minister for Health, Senator Reilly, was very clear in his approach about people being treated at home, living longer at home in their own environment and it is important that we address that. It is equally important that strategies and plans are put in place in terms of the carer and respite care aspects of health care. Senator Devine referenced disability and it is also important that we spend money in that area.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, as has Senator Hopkins in the past. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to address that issue. I cannot give Senator Boyhan an answer on the issue of beds in that hospital but the point he raises regarding rehabilitation and a national rehabilitation plan needs to be actively pursued.
I am not sure if Senator Conway-Walsh wants me to bring the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy O'Donovan, back to the House. I would be happy to do so.
The Leader should bring him back.
I look forward to it.
One very true thing he said yesterday was that if one criticises Sinn Féin on any issue, there is a chorus of disapproval. It is a one-dimensional approach to everything.
Talk about immaturity.
Members of Sinn Féin have criticised its new suitor, Deputy Micheál Martin. The love-in did not last very long and is a bit fragile. Relationships are rocky and Sinn Féin's loving up to Fianna Fáil is like a slow candle burning and will take time but------
Is the Leader feeling a bit cranky?
I am in great form. Members of Sinn Féin are a little sensitive about being in government but that party's future leader, who is nearly being anointed, is seeking to go into government. Members of Sinn Féin should also look after those next to them. The new alliance-----
Whether it is the greenway or the rail tracks, it is a bit rocky but being in government involves responsibility and making decisions, about which Sinn Féin members need to learn.
If the Leader keeps meandering, he will go off the tracks.
The chemistry is not right.
Senators should allow the Leader to finish. He is very anxious to do so.
One can work on chemistry.
On a serious note, all Members agree that investment is required in respect of people with disabilities, whether in terms of housing adaptation, as Senator Devine referenced, jobs or education.
Senators Ruane and Noone made reference to the issue of image, photoshopping, young people's self esteem and magazines that present perfect people. As Members know, that plays on people's minds and the Senators are right to raise the issue. Senator Warfield referenced young people's issues yesterday and today. It is important that there be a debate in the House on youth services, young people and issues that affect them because those will be huge issues for society. If one looks at what is happening on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter - the last to a lesser degree because young people do not use it as much, although I may be in trouble for saying that - both Senators are correct that it is a huge issue that requires discussion and an action plan because it has an effect on how people see themselves. I welcome Senator Freeman back to the House. She is working in this area, to which I will return. I would be happy to have that debate. It is urgently required.
Senator Ruane also referenced the issue of access to education. I am a former director of education, and spoke last week at the third UNESCO international conference on learning cities which took place in Cork city and was attended by delegates from over 80 countries. I am aware of the importance of returning to education or empowering people to go out to the workplace and better themselves and get a job. I do not have the details the Senator mentioned but if they are given to me, I will pass them to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, because people must be allowed to progress. The issue raised by the Senator is disappointing and I would be happy to pursue it for her.
Senator Noone also made reference to the issue of mental health and Senators Freeman and Devine referenced the issue of 16 to 18 year olds not being catered for. A Seanad Public Consultation Committee report is soon due on the issue of mental health. All Senators will agree there are many factors, including the good work being done by the charitable sector, including Pieta House, in the area of mental health and suicide. It is important that we invest and try to prevent the tragic deaths of young people in our communities. I would be happy to have a debate on that issue when the report is completed.
Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke on promoting Positive Ageing Week and said that it is important the budget be a fair one that reflects the needs of our older citizens. I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will do that in his budget speech.
Senator McDowell made a very eloquent address on constitutional reform. There is no one view on that issue. The Senator has expressed his. I am happy that he will park Seanad reform and will not put it to another constitutional referendum.
There should be a constitutional referendum on it. It is a really radical way to deal with the situation.
It is equally important that Members understand that the Constitution is open to change by the will of the people. If our Constitution does not reflect a modern society, then we would not, for example, have passed marriage equality and we would still have people being treated as less equal than others in our Constitution. In saying that, Senator McDowell is right that there are referenda that can be held that are meaningless and pointless, and that will be the debate we will have on the different propositions being put to the people. I do not think we can be afraid to amend the Constitution if we think it needs to be amended, but that is a debate we can have. I welcome that the Senator does not want another referendum on Seanad reform.
The point the Senator makes is one that we need to have a conversation about with regard to the number of referenda we hold and when. The Taoiseach has outlined his views on that.
Senator Reilly referred to transport. I would be happy to invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the House. The Senator also referred to Irish Water and the new sewage treatment plant in Rush. It shows the importance of Irish Water for investment, cleaning up our waterways and ensuring that we have clean drinking water and a fit for purpose infrastructure.
I referred to Senator Gavan's amendment. I am going to withdraw the Government motion and bring it back next week. In regard to the number of days we sit, we have a group meeting every Wednesday and we had a discussion yesterday. I will sit for as long as we can every day if we have to but-----
Will Senator Buttimer give us time to debate this motion?
It is a question of how we do our business. If the Senator is unhappy, he can come to our meeting, as he does, to be fair to him, and we will have that discussion there.
I will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to the House to address Senator Freeman's concerns.
I fully agree with Senator Paul Daly. There is a need for responsibility in the area of farm safety and it is not acceptable that it is allowed to be passed between A and B. There were 17 tragic deaths, leaving families in mourning following the loss of a loved one. I join with the Senator in paying tribute to and sympathising with the family of Martin Kehoe who was a renowned international ploughsman. The point the Senator makes is that this is a very serious issue. Senator Conway was rapporteur in the last Seanad on farm safety. I would be very happy to have that debate again in the House. We need to have it and I will invite both Ministers to address it. It is critical because it is about saving lives by preventing accidents, whether among young or old people. We need to keep that at the forefront of people's minds.
I forgot to mention the baby-friendly health initiative. I would be happy to try to arrange that meeting with the Minister, Deputy Harris, if he is the relevant Minister and it is not one of the Ministers of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne or Deputy Daly. I would be happy to talk to Senator Kevin Humphreys about that afterwards.
Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about the amendment to the Order of Business. It is a bit rich when one sees members of the Sinn Féin Party not taking their seats in Westminster and not being in the Chamber in Stormont for 29 weeks. It is easy to come in here, get a headline and make cheap comments.
Our work as Members of this House is not just about being here, as the Senator knows. It ill behoves all of us to come in here and to run ourselves down. There are enough people trying to do that anyway without us doing it. If the Senator has a constructive proposal about how we do our business, I am very happy to take it on board and will gladly meet the Senator to discuss it.
We can debate that next week. That is my proposal.
Senators Ó Domhnaill and Mullen raised the right to assemble or have freedom of speech. I cannot answer for the hotels where the events have been cancelled. It is disappointing that people are prevented from holding meetings for a variety of reasons. Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issues of the eighth amendment and of rape, which is a very sensitive matter that we must handle by working with the victims of rape in a very caring and sensitive manner. I am all for freedom of speech and assembly and I cannot answer for the hotels. In our own case, as a political party, a hotel cancelled an event that we were having. That is part of the life we live, unfortunately. Senator Mullen said that there is a need to have a respectful debate on any issue to allow for different viewpoints, in particular on the issue of the eighth amendment, which he referenced. That is about the language we use and the way we present arguments. That applies to all sides, whether in committee meetings, on the airwaves, in this Chamber or at public meetings.
On the point made by Senators Ruane and Noone about young people and magazines, it is equally important that we behave in a respectful manner on social media and do not drive people away from debate and encourage them to be involved in debate. Young people turn off in debates because of the language that is used. We should have that debate in a respectful, tolerant manner.
To reply to Senator Davitt, the VAT rate is one that the previous Government introduced to act as a catalyst to get the economy moving. The Restaurants Association of Ireland, RAI, has a lobby day today in advance of the budget. We should reflect upon the value of the 9% rate in the context of a post-Brexit scenario where we have seen a decline in tourists from the UK. What would happen if we got rid of or amended the 9% rate? Those involved in the hospitality sector also have a duty with regard to pricing, whether accommodation or menu prices. I think Senator Davitt will agree that he has seen an increase in prices of hotel rooms and menus and one wonders where the 9% VAT rate is going or who it is going to. We will have that debate in advance of the budget. I am confident that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will be prudent in his approach to the budget and I personally would like to see the VAT rate kept.
Senator Devine raised the issues of mental health and disability. We should invest. We must recognise that there is not a pot of gold under the rainbow-----
There could be.
-----that is going to take us from here to the moon and back. We only have a certain amount of money and we must spend it in a way that does not bring us back to the bad old days of the past.
Senator Mullen also referred to Aung San Suu Kyi and he has made a very good point that she needs to show leadership. The world stood with her and recognised her importance. The Senator is right that she is probably the best hope that we have. I would be happy to invite the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to address that issue.
I join with Senator Warfield in welcoming the debate on and the need for a national AIDS memorial. We all know too many friends who passed away in those circumstances. Those people should not be forgotten. The Senator referred to New York and Toronto. I would be happy to join him and other Senators in any way we can to bring that memorial forward. The increase in the number of people with HIV and AIDS in our country is a concern. The former Minister for Health, now Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was about to engage in a whole strategy relaunch for the national AIDS strategy and I hope that we can do that. Today is a poignant day and we congratulate those involved for the work they do to prevent HIV and to educate people.
I withdraw the Government amendment on the Order Paper and we will resubmit it next week.
I ask the Leader to address the issue I raised of regulation.
I beg the Senator's pardon. I saw the correspondence that I received from Drumcondra. I would be happy to facilitate that debate. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, will be in the House next week.
Could we do it then?
I will try to have it done next week.
I thank Senator Buttimer.
The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 1 not be taken today." Is that agreed? Agreed.
In case the issue of debate arises, it will be a matter for whoever chairs next Tuesday or whenever it is. I cannot decide to pre-empt that. I appreciate the significant gesture from the Leader to defer that matter. I honestly believe that the requisite time set out in Standing Orders of note should be adhered to. It makes things less suspicious than if one gets something the night before which is said to be extremely urgent but has been there for several years.
I have made my point.