The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re sectoral employment order (construction sector) to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, statements on budget 2018, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6.50 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes - time can be shared - all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not fewer than six minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
Before I begin calling Senators on the Order of Business I remind them that the Leader has proposed to take statements on the budget later this afternoon and while I understand the temptation to comment on the budget now, there will be ample opportunity to do so during the statements later on. I ask all Members to remember that and to refrain from commenting now as they can do so later when statements are being taken.
Despite your comments, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, as I will not be here to comment on the budget later, I will touch slightly on it. My entire contribution on the Order of Business will not be on the budget. Today, I rise to reflect on parts of the budget. Like last year, the influence Fianna Fáil had on the budget has ensured that it is more progressive and supported those who need support from the State, with increases in allowances for those in receipt of social welfare by more than €5 per week. Although it is modest, the budget went some way to reflect our 2:1 spend on services versus tax cuts. That was the cornerstone of our confidence and supply agreement.
I wish to mention the Indecon report published by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It is of very significant concern how we are treating lone parents. The report, which was commissioned by the Department, was published today and highlighted what we have been saying consistently since 2012, namely, that unless the changes in the one-parent family payment over the five years are accompanied by further increases in employment reforms, the objective of reducing poverty will not be met. I note that today's budget goes some way towards increasing the income thresholds for those in receipt of the one-parent family supplement, the jobseeker's transitional payment and the family income support but I do not believe it goes far enough. The report also notes that while 52% of families involved in the transition did not suffer any loss of income, 48% suffered a loss. As a country we pride ourselves on looking after those who are most disadvantaged to ensure we all have a decent standard of living and way of life. We should not change that mentality. I call on the Minister to address the House to outline her plans for further reform.
The second matter I wish to raise relates to housing. I note in the budget certain measures to increase spending on housing have been proffered by the Minister. The affordable housing scheme was announced as part of budget 2016. It was modelled on the co-op scheme in Ballymun where the council gave its land at a reduced price and more affordable houses were able to be built for as little as €140,000. However, two years on we still do not have full details of the scheme. I expected details of the scheme to be in today's budget but they were not forthcoming. I welcome the Minister's announcement on the introduction of high-rise developments in the city centre, however, I am not sold on the idea of communal living-type housing. I do not think that kind of arrangement is sustainable in the long term. I am pleased the Minister has acknowledged that the repair and leasing scheme has not worked. Ultimately, when we discuss housing we know the devil is in the detail. To date, we have seen millions of euro being proffered to address the housing crisis but we really need to see schemes implemented. Tonight, more than 8,000 people are living in emergency accommodation and we have seen little or no movement in social housing lists to date. I ask that the Minister comes to the House to address the detail of the affordable housing scheme and perhaps give us timelines for when the houses will be built. All we hear is that so many billions of euro are being pumped into local authorities but we have not seen one sod turned, or at least I have not seen any sods turned in my constituency.
I take the opportunity on behalf of myself and my fellow members of the Independent group to express condolences to the members of the family of the late Liam Cosgrave, iar Thaoiseach. Many words have been spoken about him since his death and some of them have been well publicised, but there were aspects of Liam Cosgrave which I think were not sufficiently appreciated by the Irish people and indeed by many commentators.
The fundamental feature of his character that deserves to be recorded here was his unique combination of patriotism, decency and determination. Those qualities always governed what he did and his attitude to the events and issues he had to confront.
The other thing about him that I noted in recent times, and I attended a few events at his invitation at which he spoke, was his belief that in this decade of centenaries, it was not his career as a politician that should be vindicated but his father's memory. On more than one occasion, he took it upon himself to emphasise his father's achievements on behalf of the Irish people. He was not speaking about himself; he was not erecting monuments to himself in what he said. Based on what he said and the tone in which he said it, I felt that he was afraid that coming up to the Civil War period and the like, the achievements of his father and his father's generation would be ignored, swept aside or mischaracterised for the Irish people. It is worth remembering that both W. T. Cosgrave and Liam Cosgrave were intensely loyal to the institutions of the Irish State established by the Irish people and they never wavered in that loyalty. At all points, they stood up for those institutions. I do not want to be contentious but when one goes back to the period of the Civil War, which this country will be forced to address again in fairly short order during its centenary, one thing that occurs to me is that Michael Collins and others were republicans. They were people who were determined to establish the independence and sovereignty of the Irish people. Although the treaty settlement was one that did not enshrine in absolutely clear terms the word "republic" as the definition of the Irish State, I challenge anybody in this House to look to the 1922 Constitution and ask themselves compared to Bunreacht na hÉireann, to which I am loyal in equal measure, whether it was not a very republican constitution and whether it did not aspire to be, on its face, a document that acknowledged that sovereignty in Ireland came from the people of Ireland.
The second thing I want to say about Liam Cosgrave is that he was a man of few words and shrewd judgment. None of this was probably more characterised than on an occasion in Thomas Street when the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was unveiling a plaque to W. T. Cosgrave at his birthplace and Liam Cosgrave was there and spoke. Enda Kenny said that when he was running for the by-election after which he succeeded his father as a Deputy in Mayo, he was greatly chuffed when the then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave came down to canvass with him outside churches in Mayo. Enda Kenny said that he made a number of speeches from the back of a lorry outside a church and they went from one town to another. Eventually, Liam Cosgrave said to him in his typically gravelly tone "Enda, there's no need to say too much. These people know a lot anyway." That sums up the character of Liam Cosgrave, the man who had faith in the people and their judgment and was giving a quiet piece of advice to the man who was to succeed him as Taoiseach of Ireland.
On behalf of my colleagues, I want to record my personal sadness at the passing of Liam Cosgrave. I saw him on the day of the 1916 celebration when he was quite ill. He arrived at the back of the GPO in his car.
He had to remain in the car due to ill health but when it came to the national anthem, he got out of the car with some difficulty, stood to attention hand across his heart and then went back to his car. I said, "There is a real patriot." I do not think I can say any more about him.
Agus muid ag dul ó ábhar bróin go dtí ábhar rud beag níos fuinniúla agus b'fhéidir chan chomh tábhachtach leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an caointeoir a chuaigh romham, tá brón orm go bhfuil orm an píosa sin a leanstan. I am conscious that I am following the remarks of Senator McDowell and the sadness and the sense of loss that he reflected. It is, no doubt, felt by colleagues in Fine Gael at the passing of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Cosgrave. We, too, share in that sadness for their loss.
If the Leader will forgive me, I will focus on something light-hearted and reflect on the achievements of our soccer squad last night which, hopefully, are the first of many achievements to be had. It gives me a great deal of delight that it was a Derryman who scored the goal. James McClean, a very proud Derryman and a very proud Irishman, has done the national side a great service in this campaign. Hopefully, he, along with his team mates and the management and staff of the international side, will do us much more.
In remarking on that, I call for a debate on the benefits of sport. We have had the Minister with responsibility for sport in the Chamber on a number of occasions. We have spoken here about the benefits of participation in whatever form or code of sport one happens to be involved in. We all acknowledge and appreciate the benefits that sport brings personally and socially and in terms of health and well-being. The latter is of particular importance when one reflects on this being World Mental Health Day 2017. Sport can play a pivotal and key role in that, as the Leader well knows. In the Leader, I appreciate I am speaking to a fellow sports fan and someone who, not least given his previous job in life, knows the benefit that sports can bring.
Reflecting on last night's achievement and on the issue of sport, it is far to say that Ireland works best when we work together, whether that is in respect of the all-island bid for the Rugby World Cup to be hosted here, in our boxing fraternity or in our hockey, cricket or GAA codes. We all are stronger when we are united. While some have referenced in this Chamber previously the possibility of having a discussion around an all-island soccer team and what that might mean and what that might look like, it would be good to have a discussion with the Minister to see how the FAI and other sporting codes can think nationally but act locally. Last night, I am sure there were many young children, both boys and girls, in Derry, Lurgan, Newry and in Belfast, who watched James McClean and Shane Duffy, and heard from Martin O'Neill after the game, and want to be involved with the FAI and to see summer camps hosted by the FAI on the streets of those cities where that should not be a contentious or hot political issue. If we are serious about the benefits - hopefully, there will be a great period coming up where we can follow the Irish international squad and see the delivery of the Rugby World Cup - we should have that debate about how we think nationally and act locally, and avail of those benefits for our young people and, ultimately, for the country.
I join with others in expressing condolences to the family of the late Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave.
On a more positive note, I join with Senator Ó Donnghaile in expressing such a welcome for the match result last night. It was a super match and I am proud for James McClean and, as the Senator stated, for Derry, with Martin O'Neill and others there. I also wish to express support for a debate on sport in this House. I have some involvement with the FAI, in particular, girls' soccer. That is a real growth area where we are seeing the FAI going into schools and recruiting girls for a growing Dublin metropolitan girls' league.
That is very positive and we need to support it however we can.
I welcome that we will see the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017 going through today without debate. That will make a huge difference to the lives and livelihoods of many workers in the construction sector. It is a proud legacy of Labour in Government and my colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, in particular.
There will be a debate on the budget later. It represents a missed opportunity in that the Government could and should have invested in housing, health and education rather than using property revenues to fund tax cuts in a way that is reminiscent of Charlie McCreevy and which will only benefit people to the tune of a cup of coffee each week. In this House, we have heard many calls, particularly from Senator Noone, and rightly so, for a sugar tax. It is very welcome to see that and also other positive initiatives such as the increased VAT on sunbeds. That is great for health. It is disappointing to see the effective abandonment of Sláintecare without additional resources being put in place by the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, which would have been necessary to fund the roll-out of Sláintecare. We might have a debate on health care in the future and on how we will see the roll-out of Sláintecare. It is unfortunate and disappointing that in the budget today, despite the positive health initiatives we have seen, some of which were sought by Members in this House in the past, like the sugar tax, we see a bitter pill in the lack of commitment to Sláintecare and its apparent abandonment by the Government.
Today is World Mental Health Day. It is disappointing to see little commitment with regard to mental health spending. Pieta House has done great work in pointing out that one in seven Irish adults have had mental health issues in the last 12 months and the need to secure funding for that.
On 25 October, during the Labour Party's Private Members' time, we will have a debate on our Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill. I proposed it for the Labour group in the summer and it passed Second Stage. I thank Senators for the support since it passed through the House without opposition. It would provide for mandatory reporting on a gender pay gap in organisations with 50 employees or more. I am delighted to say that yesterday Ibec supported the call for mandatory gender pay gap reporting. Over the summer and since the Second Stage of the Bill, this issue assumed great significance and topical importance with the publication of figures from RTE and so on. I hope that when this matter comes back to the Seanad on 25 October in the Labour Party's Private Members' time that we can look forward to support from both sides of the House for Committee Stage of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill.
I welcome the €310 million allocated in the budget to address the infrastructural needs of higher and further education sectors. I ask the Leader to find out where the Technological Universities Bill is and when it will be completed on Committee Stage. The Bill signifies an important step forward for the higher education landscape in Ireland and it provides for much-needed institutes of technology and higher education institutes to remain competitive, which is important for us.
I do not like to be parochial but I will be. Athlone Institute of Technology, AIT, has really welcomed the Technological Universities Bill and it has always been our ambition in Athlone to become a technological university. Athlone has met all the metrics and has been to the forefront of the institute of technology sector with regard to percentages of staff with PhDs, research activity and the diverse nature of our students. The institute performs excellently. I urge the Leader to contact both Ministers' offices and the Department of Education and Skills and to ask them to engage with Athlone Institute of Technology again before the completion of this work. It is vital for us that we are married to the right institute. I do not believe that we should be put together with Dublin Institute of Technology because it is too far away from us geographically. I do not believe that we should be put with Galway, Mayo or Sligo because they are too far away from us. If we have to be married to somebody and cannot be a standalone university, then we should be attached to Maynooth because we complement each other very well and are geographically very close. In the meantime I congratulate AIT for receiving an award from The Irish Times for being the best institute of technology.
That is a further reason to give it stand-alone status or link it with Maynooth university.
On my own behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil group, I pass on our condolences to the wider Cosgrave family on the death of Liam. I will not go on at length about the former Taoiseach. Senator Michael McDowell made a very thoughtful speech on his contribution to Irish life. It is hard for all of us to appreciate that somebody was within the walls of Leinster House for 38 years and here for a further 40 years after being Taoiseach. He lived a very long and happy life and made a great contribution to the State. May he rest in peace. I had a particular connection with one of his nieces, Louise Cosgrave, who was a councillor in the Stillorgan area. When I was a Fianna Fáil councillor, she was a Fine Gael councillor, but we worked well together long before there were confidence and supply agreements or various other forms of minority arrangements. I regard her as a good friend.
As we will be back to speak about the budget later, I will try to avoid referring to it in this contribution. In advance of Thursday, World Obesity Day, it is very important that the Chamber looks at the issue. Senator Ray Butler has spoken at length about what he did to manage the issues with which he had to deal. Many of us in the Chamber, including me, would like to be a few pounds lighter than we are. It is important, therefore, that on Thursday we acknowledge what is happening. Obesity is a huge problem and something we all need to flag and of which we need to be aware. I hope the sugar tax will prove to be something positive. As somebody said, it will not raise that much revenue if we all modify our behaviour, but it may release some of the strain on the health service in having to treat people who present with conditions associated with carrying excess weight. I want to flag the issue. Let us all try to raise its profile because carrying excess weight leads on to many things, including cancer and stroke. It is important that we all appreciate this, including me as much as anyone else.
I express my deepest sympathy to the Cosgrave family on the death of their father, the former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. He did the State a great service in his time as Taoiseach at a very difficult time politically. At his funeral on Saturday he was described by Monsignor John Wilson as a man who had loved his family, faith and country, which was a fitting tribute to a man who had dedicated his life to all three. May he rest in peace.
I want to discuss the sugar tax. A sugar tax was introduced in Chicago a few months back and it has caused ferocious controversy. It will be rescinded either today or tomorrow and it is probable that the president of Cook County will lose her seat over it. I hope the same will not happen here. I was shocked. She put on a penny per ounce, which was going to bring in more than $200 million in Cook County, of which Chicago is part. I want to warn people that it is an issue. As with everything in the United States, Coca-Cola and Pepsi launched a massive multi-million dollar campaign against it and publicly stated they would finance a fund to be used against the president of Cook County in the primary next March. That shows us how politics works in the United States.
Last weekend I met an old friend who was an optometrist in private practice. We used to row together many years ago. We got to speak about his profession. I was shocked by the figures that he told me were on the waiting list for eye procedures in this country. At the end of August this year, almost 12,500 people were waiting for inpatient eye procedures. It is the highest waiting list in any medical specialty. More than 3,000 of the people in question have been waiting for more than a year, while 800 have been waiting for 12 to 18 months. A further 38,000 are on an outpatient waiting list waiting to receive appointments.
That 38,000 has gone up from 32,000 at the end of 2016, an increase of almost 20% in eight months. Hospital eye departments cannot meet the ever-growing demands of patients, whose health is being compromised by these crisis-level delays.
The problem could be tackled effectively if community and hospital-based services were to work together much more closely, with routine care provided in the community and only specialist or complex cases being referred to hospital eye departments. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere across Europe there has been an increasing trend towards community-based eye care. That is where Ireland needs to go. It is estimated that €32 million could be saved, while at the same time providing a better and quicker service. It is 50% less expensive to treat patients through the local optometrist than through the hospital system. There are 600 optometrists across the country who are highly skilled, trained, have the necessary equipment and are available to solve the problem. The Association of Optometrists Ireland, AOI, estimates that savings of €32.3 million could be made here, including €7.2 million in the provision children's eye care services; €19 million in the treatment of glaucoma; €4 million in triage services; and €2 million in the treatment of red eye. An optometrist's examination costs €45 on average, while an examination in an outpatient department or community clinic is estimated to cost more twice that amount, more than €100, plus associated costs such as travel costs and parking fees, etc. There is also a high level of patient non-attendance, putting a cost on hospital services.
There are three areas where the optometrist can immediately reduce waiting times and, given that this is budget day, save the State a considerable amount of money: the paediatric list; the cataract list and the review of stable patients post-treatment. This is particularly relevant in the treatment of glaucoma and macular degeneration. It is very frustrating to hear about the difficulties people have as waiting lists grow and they suffer needlessly. The position could be improved hugely by an immediate discussion between the AOI and the HSE.
The Senator is well into injury time.
I am just finishing. I call on the Minister for Health to ask the HSE to enter into discussions with the Association of Optometrists Ireland as a matter of priority.
I point out to Senator Billy Lawless that while optometrists can deliver very valuable services, there are also many that they cannot. Outpatient departments cover the entirety of services, which is why they provide a slightly more expensive service.
I would like to make some quick responses to the comments made by the leader of Fianna Fáil in the House on the issue of housing. Senator Catherine Ardagh claims that she has not seen a sod turned in her constituency. I am happy to report that I have seen numerous sods turned in my constituency, including for the many affordable and social houses being built in my village of Lusk, complete with solar panels. The leader of the Labour Party in the House meanwhile has stated the Government has missed an opportunity to invest in health services. The Department of Health will now have the largest budget in its history. There will also be an increase in the budget for housing and the Department of Education and Skills, with a huge increase of 1,000 in the number of new special needs assistants. There will be more teachers and a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach requested, I will not labour too much on the budget, but there will also be a huge investment in mental health services. I call on the Minister for Health to ensure 16 to 18 year olds will all be catered for by the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS. Although this is HSE policy, it is not always the case and the position has to be corrected as a matter of urgency. Furthermore, there are children who are still being catered for in adult mental health facilities. This is not acceptable and must also be addressed as a matter of urgency.
I welcome many of the changes made in the budget, but I will stick to the ones I find particularly positive. Senator Billy Lawless mentioned the sugar tax and what had happened in Chicago. We must stand firm against the vested interests of the multinationals. As the Senator will be aware, it would not be the first time we were faced with legal and political threats from vested interests. I am not referring to the sugar industry in this instance but to the tobacco industry which has left no stone unturned in intimidating this and many other smaller countries.
Our public health service and our public health policy is a matter for this country. We have a duty of obligation to protect our citizens, particularly our children. I welcome the sugar tax, the sun bed tax and the increased tax on cigarettes.
Last week, I raised the issue of prescription charges in the hope that they would be abolished or, at least, that progress would be made in that regard. I welcome that the Minister has commenced that process and I hope that he will continue on the pathway towards their abolition.
As the Leas-Chathaoirleach has asked that we not make budget statements I will not do so. However, in regard to Senator Reilly's point that we must stand firm against corporations and conglomerates, where are we at in regard to the Apple tax that we are refusing and appealing?
Today is World Mental Health Day and this week, 10 to 17 October, is mental health week. In my view, budget 2018 is regressive in terms of the mental health budget. However, I will not elaborate on that today.
I welcome Diageo's proposed city centre development on a site in the iconic St. James's Gate area, which is in my constituency, which will lead to a new quarter in the inner city in the Liberties in Dublin 8. This will be one of the largest developments at the heart of the city, fully integrated into the Liberties area. The development will include 500 new homes and commercial and leisure elements. We await the finer details of the development. This 12.68 acre site is being imaginatively developed to benefit the community, where up to now the only development has been of student accommodation. This type of development in a small area like the Liberties does not engender community spirit. This area, which was particularly devastated by social problems and austerity, needs businesses and homes if it is to flourish and thrive. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the local authorities to ensure land banks held by large companies not only in Dublin but across all cities are developed not on a potential profit basis but for the benefit of communities.
While I, too, would like to comment on the budget I will wait until the appropriate time to do so. I rise today to highlight the ongoing debate in Cork regarding the county and the city, in respect of which several reports have been produced over the last five to six years, three of which have come to naught and three of which have been debated in the last 18 months in particular. We need to progress towards a conclusion of this matter.
Am I correct that the Senator has tabled this issue for discussion as a Commencement matter?
No, the Commencement matter relates to local election boundaries. The local authorities need to ensure governance structures are put in place to allow Cork to move forward as appropriate. Thus far, all we have had is debate and internal arguments. In terms of the structure of Cork local government, we all accept there is need for change and that that change must be put in place sooner rather than later. As I said, this issue has been debated at length by almost everybody in the county, including public representatives, local and national representatives, the executives of both local authorities, academics and so on. This process needs to brought to a conclusion, with the necessary changes made sooner rather than later. The region is suffering because of a lack of local government structures and local government vision. We need to ensure these are in place going forward.
In the past 48 hours, one of the local authorities has threatened court proceedings against local government in Dublin. This is unique and unfortunate but it shows the urgency of dealing with this issue once and for all. The threat of legal action by local government against a Department is unheard of, in my opinion.
I believe we need to have movement. The Minister needs to decide what he proposes to do and make that decision. I look forward to the Commencement debate on the other issue tomorrow.
Today, we have all been listening to the budget and I know we will debate it later. Today is also World Homeless Day. We are now in 2017 yet we have 8,270 people in emergency accommodation and 3,048 of them are children. When I heard a Fine Gael Senator say that housing is being built I was a bit surprised. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the committee has been told that there is loads of money. Yet, today on budget day, there are 8,270 people living in emergency accommodation and it is not right. It is unfair and it is unjust.
What is the reason for that?
Some 3,048 of those people are children.
We are discussing the Order of Business.
Today is also World Mental Health Day. Again, I address my comment to Fine Gael. There are 678,438 people on some form of a hospital waiting list. Again, this matter needs to be addressed. We need to make sure that these people, like previous speakers have said, are not waiting for operations or waiting for surgery. That is uncalled for. I ask that we make sure that the money that is in the budget is delivered to the services that need them and I will give an example.
Who created the HSE?
I will give an example.
Who created the HSE? It was Deputy Micheál Martin.
I know of instances where medical cards have been refused.
Deputy Micheál Martin is the Senator's party leader.
Will Senator Murnane O'Connor save her example-----
Who created the HSE? It was Deputy Micheál Martin.
-----for statements on the budget-----
-----rather than give it now?
I heard of a case yesterday where a medical card was refused-----
I do not want people speaking on the budget now when we have will have statements later on.
-----and the lady is blind.
The Senator's party leader created the HSE.
She is blind yet she was refused a medical card because she was just over the limit.
That sounds like Charlie and his health cuts against the old and vulnerable.
The Government needs to address these issues which are not being addressed.
We were in a recession.
I ask that the Leader invites the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, who has responsibility for the Office for Public Works, OPW, to debate the whole issue of what progress has been made on the delivery of flood defences under the Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021. In September 2015, €430 million was put into a pot for investment in various schemes around the country. I know one such scheme is earmarked for my own area of Crossmolina. Crossmolina was flooded in November 2015 and December 2016. Prior to that, for a couple of years, consultants had considered long-term flood defences. In fact, very late in the day they decided that the building of flood defences in the town, which would comprise building a wall, could not be done because it would interfere with the integrity of a bridge. It seemed a bit late in the day to make that decision. They have considered options since then but a couple of years have elapsed. What accountability is there in terms of consultants carrying out their work? What deadlines have they been asked to work to? An option has not been yet been identified that would allow works to proceed to design yet the money is there. We need to see more for the people of Crossmolina-----
-----and for people throughout the country-----
-----and for money that the Government has set aside and the plans it has to provide long-term flood defences are being delivered in a timely fashion.
We also have catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, an analysis of over 300 areas that are at risk of flooding. There are numerous flood risk management plans. In regard to Ballina where I live, I would like to know how the recommendations and plans going to be implemented and what funding will follow these plans because we are heading into the time of year for floods. Obviously floods happened sooner than expected in Donegal and I extend my sincere sympathies to the people of Donegal. Floods are a shocking experience and I have witnessed it first hand in Ballina and Crossmolina. We need to know that progress has been made. The people need to know what work is being done. We need some accountability from the OPW and the consultants it has engaged so that we know this matter is getting their full attention. To my mind, the delays in Crossmolina seem inordinate.
I would also like to express my sincere sympathies to the family of the former Taoiseach, the late Liam Cosgrave. May his soul rest in peace.
My colleague, Senator McDowell, has paid tribute to the late Liam Cosgrave and I wish to be associated with it. I knew this unique man well. I grew up in his constituency of Dún Laoghaire. I extend particular sympathy to his son Liam Thomas, or Liam T. Cosgrave Jnr. as we know him, who served as Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathaoirleach and Member of the Seanad. He served as a Deputy and also as a county councillor in the constituency in which I live. I know the Cosgrave family exceptionally well.
I was looking at archive footage and a tribute shown by RTE last week to the late Liam Cosgrave. Senator McDowell spoke and paid tribute to him on that programme and this made me recall my memories of him as somebody who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a shrewd operator. He knew about local politics when nobody knew about it. He had his key people in Dún Laoghaire. As people know, Dún Laoghaire has a very strong Fine Gael tradition that goes back to the beginning of this State. In this four-seat constituency, the Fine Gael Party has three seats in Dáil Éireann. That is a wonderful achievement for the party and I am sure it hopes to keep two and aims to keep three. He was a man of exceptional integrity who always put local issues to the very top of his political agenda. He opened schools and always attended, even when we was Taoiseach, what appeared to be small events across the constituency. He was at them all, he was the chief. I think we can learn from that. It was not beneath him to go and meet very small groups of people. I knew him well and extend my condolences to his family.
May I request the Leader, and I know he has committed to doing so, to have a debate on the services of the National Rehabilitation Hospital because they are really important. As of today, there are hundreds of people needing rehabilitation who remain in acute beds in our general hospitals and need to go for rehabilitation before they can go home. Will the Leader agree to facilitate that in the next two to three weeks?
I would like to express my condolences to the Cosgrave family.
I congratulate Martin O'Neill and the Irish soccer team on their win. It was like a mini World Cup victory. I hope Ireland will qualify to go to Russia.
I congratulate the Meath senior camogie team who won the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Final against Cork last Sunday week. Let me say: "Well done girls." It is great news that County Meath can win All-Ireland finals again.
It was very worrying to look at the Tory Party conference last week. What a pantomime - with Boris Johnson walking in and walking out and Theresa May's speech. We then learn from the leaked document on immigration what is being proposed under Brexit, namely, in 2019 people who are classified as unskilled will get a two-year stay and those who are skilled with get a five-year stay. That is very worrying for Irish and other European people. They are going to operate border controls on labour similar to those in Australia. These are draconian measures. We might have a "Guantanamo Bay" over there. Theresa May wants to know what Europe is doing, but it was she and her party who constructed this disaster.
It was reported in a weekend newspaper that Revenue needs more staff for customs duties and that it believes an open border will not work. The Germans and the other 27 member states will not lie down under Brexit and let Britain walk on them. Channel 4 News conducted its second "Brexit Reality Debate: Should Brexit be stopped at all costs?". For those who saw it, the English public now realise the big mistake they have made. When they look at the British Government's performance they see the disaster, with members tripping over one another. The Labour Party is no better. It is a case of the stiff upper lip, to keep going when the ship is sinking. It is a mess. There is no Government in Stormont.
I would like the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come in here so we can discuss the serious issue of emigration and consider where we go next.
Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh an gCeannaire. Tá súil agam gur éirigh go maith leis ar an turas a bhí á dhéanamh aige ar son na Parlaiminte. I welcome the Leader back. I hope the parliamentary group he travelled with was a success. It is important that such trips happen.
It is important to note that a momentous meeting of the Catalan Parliament is taking place this afternoon. Nobody knows yet what is going to happen. It is certainly going to be an historic day in one sense or another. What is happening at the moment is very concerning. More and more international leaders, including former Nobel Peace Prize winners, are making very public statements about the need for mediation to resolve the situation that has unfolded between the Spanish and Catalan Governments. Our Government should add its voice to that call because international mediation is needed. It is possible that it could be sponsored by the EU, but it should certainly not be led by the EU because it is not seen as an honest broker at the moment. I note that the Swiss Government has offered its services. Our Government should stand up and be counted by adding its voice to the call for international mediation.
I am also thinking today about our own diaspora across the globe. We need a good debate about diaspora issues. On Saturday, Senator Lawless and I attended a very good conference that was organised by Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and Karen McHugh of Safe Home Ireland. They highlighted once more the practical issues facing Irish citizens who want to return home. The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, was also in attendance. It would be very useful to have a debate in this House on such issues. I know we will debate the budget later this afternoon, but I would like to mention a related aspect of it that concerns me. It is disappointing to see that the supports available to organisations supporting Irish citizens abroad are being cut in this budget. Perhaps we could have a debate on that.
Bheadh sé go maith freisin dá bhféadfadh muid díospóireacht a bheith againn maidir le dul chun cinn na straitéise 20 bliana, cúrsaí pleanála teanga agus cúrsaí Gaeilge. Is léir nach bhfuil an méid atá curtha ar fáil sa bhuiséad inniu ag teacht i bhfoisceacht scread asail den mhéid atá na heagraíochtaí pobail agus Gaeltachta ag lorg ó thaobh maoinithe de. B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh muid breathnú ar na ceisteanna sin chomh maith.
I would like to join in the vote of sympathy to the late Liam Cosgrave who made a huge contribution to this country in difficult times. During the ceremony, there were interesting references to Liam Cosgrave's support for the Garda and the Garda's support for him. At an extremely difficult time, this played a major part in making sure we had peace in this country. Liam Cosgrave made a major contribution in this whole area.
In that context, I welcome the announcement in today's Budget Statement that an additional 800 gardaí and an additional 500 civilian Garda staff will be recruited in 2018. I also welcome the increase in spending of 3.4% that is being provided for in this budget. I remind my colleague who referred to a lack of money for this or that that the annual increases of 12% in Government spending some years ago caused a false economy.
I would like to raise an important matter that relates to the victims of crime. A legal colleague wrote to me the other day to advise me that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal is experiencing substantial delays in dealing with claims. The tribunal compensates people who have suffered injuries as a result of serious assaults but are not being provided for. In the case that was referred to me, an application for compensation was lodged in 2012 and all the necessary documentation was lodged more than two years ago. It will be anything up to a further two years before the matter will be dealt with. We are talking about people who are victims of crime. In this case, the person who assaulted the injured party was imprisoned for more than ten years as a penalty for this serious assault.
The money awarded by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal is not a lump sum.
It is to provide for medical care, dental care and loss of earnings. That is all it covers. We are finding that there is a delay of well over five years in dealing with claims. I ask the Leader to bring the issue to the Minister's attention. I also believe the Minister should come to the House to explain what he will do to get rid of the waiting list. Victims of crime should not be left waiting in this manner. It is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. It is grand to have more gardaí on the street, but people will still suffer injury as a result of a serious assault, no matter how many gardaí are on the streets or what is done in this area, and they need to be compensated adequately.
During his election campaign the Taoiseach committed to double State funding for culture over a seven-year period. Justin Trudeau made the same commitment, but, ironically, it is a commitment on which Canada has delivered. It is time, therefore, for the Government to road-map its intentions. To quote what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, said today, "Additional funding to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, of €9 million in current funding and €4 million in capital funding, will allow for key measures to be progressed in 2018." Doubling the funding for the arts would require a 10% to 20% increase annually. The increase announced today is 6%. Sinn Féin's alternative budget included fully costed increases for cultural agencies and institutions, amounting to between 10% and 15%. Fine Gael should not make promises it cannot keep and should keep every commitment it makes. In the absence of a press conference by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, this evening, it would be good to know how exactly the Arts Council can meet demands under the children and youth pillar of the Creative Ireland programme with only an additional €5 million. Separately, the sense from the arts community is that Creative Ireland needs a period of reflection. There are concerns about the level of transparency, the moneys spent on advertising and whether it is a propaganda arm of the Department. Regrettably, this is another disappointing day for artists and audiences, with unambitious measures in the area of the arts and culture.
I, too, wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Cosgrave family on the death of the former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. One could not put it any better than how Senator Michael McDowell put it. He probably knew him better than most of us in the Chamber and gave a great outline of what he was like. The first time I met the late former Taoiseach was during the famous by-election of 1975. I met him afterwards on a number of occasions, particularly at spring shows and so forth, and always found him to be a humble man who was willing to share his time. I would, therefore, like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to his family, Liam Jnr. who spent many years in this Chamber, Mary and Ciarán, and the wider Cosgrave family also. His interview with Colm Murray was one of the finest heard on RTE. It made for compelling listening. Both are now gone to their eternal reward. I heard many comments throughout the country across all divides about how great an interview it was with a man who had a great brain and mind and could remember everything as if it was only yesterday.
I thank the 18 Members who contributed on the Order of Business. I join the many Senators who paid tribute to the memory of the late and great iarThaoiseach, Liam Cosgrave. Like many others in the House, I attended the funeral last Saturday afternoon and was struck by the simplicity and humility of the occasion which reflected the man he had been. As Monsignor Wilson said, he was a man who loved his family, country and faith.
Senator McDowell's very eloquent testimonial to him illustrates the importance that the State and its institutions played in his life and that of his family. At a time of commemorations and celebrations, the legacy of Liam Cosgrave and his family will be one of standing up for our people, the Garda and the Defence Forces and the Members of this House, when Members of these Houses were attacked and killed, as were members of the Defence Forces and the Garda.
I had the pleasure of meeting him during the election campaign in 1973 when my father was a young man. I was six years old and he told me I should be at home in bed, gave me a few bob and thanked me for being at the rally in Cork.
His work as Taoiseach reflected his desire to bring peace to our country. How sad it was that the work of Sunningdale could not have been accepted, embraced and moved forward. It took a generation, many of whom have died, before that happened. When we reflect on the work of Sunningdale, we will see that it was a stepping stone to, and it left a footprint on, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement and others such as the St. Andrews Agreement. It is a pity that those on both sides of the divide did not warm to the work of his Government.
He was equally a man who brought Ireland to the world, as Minister for External Affairs visiting the United Nations and as Taoiseach in the European Union. That Government, through Mark Clinton and Garret FitzGerald, embraced Europe and saw its importance to this country. As a member of the Council of State, where he served for more than four decades, he gave wise counsel and showed his shrewdness and ability to bring people with him, in some cases with very few words, as Senator McDowell said. He took great pride in the Defence Forces, particularly the Army Equitation School. I pay tribute to him and thank him and the Cosgrave family for W. T. Cosgrave, Liam Cosgrave and Liam Cosgrave Jnr. who served as Cathaoirleach of this House. When we reflect on our great political journey as a country, the name of Liam Cosgrave will shine brightly. As leader of the Fine Gael Party in this House, I offer our deepest sympathies to Liam, Ciaran, Mary and his grandchildren and his extended family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
On a happier note I join all the Members of the House who paid tribute to the success of our soccer team last night. I tweeted during injury time "me nerves". We were all blowing that whistle. Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to Derry and the great goal scorer. From a Cork perspective, David Meyler and others would come to mind. It was an evening of joy for those of us who follow sport. I hope the draw will be kind to us whenever it takes place. I congratulate all the team for giving us an uplifting evening. It shows the importance of sport.
Senator Ardagh referred to the lone parent report. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, will come to the House on 26 October to discuss the matter. The point of the report is that employment has increased and it is a question of reversing the cuts and ensuring we allow single women go out to work without being punished or penalised and that they can see the benefit of employment and not have to withdraw from the workforce. The report makes valuable reading.
The Senator also referred to housing and development. A couple of weeks ago in the debate on housing, when the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was here, I referred to the sod turning in many parts of the country. There has been an increase in this budget of funding for the health sector. This Government is very much committed to Rebuilding Ireland and housing is a priority of, and for, Government. The Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform is allocating €1.83 billion for housing in this budget. Some 3,800 new social houses will be built this year.
That belies the line peddled by Members of the House on the Opposition benches in particular that the Fine Gael Party does not build houses. A total of 3,800 social houses are being built.
The housing assistance payment is being increased by €149 million, allowing for an additional 17,000 householders to be supported and accommodated in 2018. I know you will chastise me, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but it has been raised on the Order of Business. We will see funding of a further €18 million, giving a total of €116 million for homeless services in the budget for 2018, which has just been announced in the past couple of hours. The most important way to tackle homelessness and to make housing more affordable is to increase housing supply, and that is what the Government is committed to doing. That was the thrust of the housing package in the budget. I think we will all join in congratulating the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Eoghan Murphy, for their contributions in terms of the housing budget.
Senator Ó Donnghaile made reference to the benefits of sport. I agree that James McClean's goal last night is one that shows the importance of how we can join a nation together. I would be happy to have a debate on the benefits of sport, whether it is under the umbrella of competitive, active sport or through more recreational leisure under the umbrella of Healthy Ireland. The Senator is correct that it is something we must look at not from a value-for-money perspective but in terms of how we can increase the longevity of citizens and also reduce the health budget, which we are spending unnecessarily on some issues. The importance of sport was outlined by Senator Butler, and whether it is Meath winning the all-Ireland intermediate camogie competition, Cork winning the camogie or Dublin winning the football, it is about sport of whatever code - whether ladies' or men's' - and about all of us participating and joining together.
Senator Bacik referred to health and Sláintecare. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is very much committed to Sláintecare. He is of the view that an implementation group will be appointed by the end of the year. He is very much committed to the report of the overarching body, which unfortunately did not contain Members of the Seanad, but in the budget we are seeing an increase of €685 million in the Department of Health spend. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh will be pleased to hear that it is the highest spend in modern times, as will Senator Murnane O'Connor who also referred to health.
We are not supposed to talk about the budget.
It was raised on the Order of Business. I know the one line Sinn Féin gets every day is that we cannot praise good news. Sinn Féin does not like to hear good news.
Members can come back and give us the good news when we reach the next item of business.
Just to confuse us.
I remind Senator Murnane O'Connor that on this occasion in the budget the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is allocating €209 million to new initiatives where the Government will inform the HSE of what the funding can be spent on. She should remember that it was her party leader who conceived and brought into being the structure of the HSE, the Health Service Executive.
It is ten years on now.
The Senator should remember that.
The Leader can only use that excuse for so long. Mistakes were made but we are seven years on now. He should take responsibility.
Both Senators will have the opportunity to contribute to the next item of business. They should please leave it at that.
It is only a lover's tiff.
Just so Members know, in the context of the health service, the health budget is €15.3 billion, which is a 5% increase.
The Leader can-----
Funding is needed to implement Sláintecare.
The Minister said transitional funding will be made available for Sláintecare on an ongoing basis.
The Leader should speak through the Chair.
This is about ensuring-----
Unless it is proven right we will have to-----
I know that good news is hard to take.
No. I am delighted with the good news.
I appreciate that the Senator would love to be in Government.
Will Senator Buttimer hold that good news until the next item?
I will. The important point is that the budget announced by the Minister will allow for more people to be employed and there will be new initiatives to cut waiting lists. Senator Bacik is correct that we need to see the Sláintecare plan being taken on board across the health sector.
We do, and we do not have funding for it.
Whether it is primary care or the optometrists to whom Senator Lawless referred or elder care in the home, as Senator Colm Burke has been talking about, that is all addressed in the budget. We will have more home care packages and we will embrace Sláintecare and what the Minister referred to in terms of the transition.
He should have referenced it explicitly in the budget.
Hold on now; you are all a bit previous.
There is an additional €35 million for mental health on this World Mental Health Day which is up from last year.
The Senator will be able to go into that in more detail.
I will not be able to do so because I have been asked to respond to the Order of Business and am doing so. I welcome Senator Bacik's Private Members' Bill. We hoped to see that expedited in the past. It is a Bill we have supported.
I join with Senator McFadden in congratulating Athlone Institute of Technology on its success. I hope we will see the Technological Universities Bill back in the House relatively soon. I know the Department is working on it. We had hoped to have it in the schedule for the coming weeks but it is in the legislative programme in the short term.
Senator Horkan mentioned the issue of obesity and, like Senator Lawless, indirectly mentioned the sugar tax. The umbrella that is Healthy Ireland is one that we should embrace, run with, work with and promote because it is about promoting a healthy Ireland. I hope we will find unanimity or a common approach to ensure we can see the issue of obesity tackled and Healthy Ireland promoted.
I congratulate Senator Lawless on his contribution last week at the conference at which he spoke. It was a very fine contribution. In respect of the matter he raised regarding the sugar tax, I certainly hope, as Senator Reilly said, that we do not see the big corporations try to bedevil what we are trying to achieve here. The Senator is right regarding the issue of optometry. We should see a community hospital-based approach and I would be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss that because it is about ensuring that people are treated and that it can be done in the community.
Senator Reilly referenced the issue of housing. He is right in terms of the mental health budget and CAMHS with the 16 to 18-year-olds, who I hope can be treated by CAMHS. I would be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss that.
Senator Devine made reference to the Apple tax case. The Government is appealing the Commission's decision with regard to that. The Senator made reference to the issue of mental health. I have mentioned that we will have an increase of €35 million in the mental health budget which will allow for new posts to be created for people to be able to access services. We all welcome the allocation of extra moneys for the mental health budget. I join with the Senator in congratulating Diageo on its investment in a new living quarter in the Liberties in Dublin 8. I had reason to be there last weekend and it is a development that will add to the vibrancy that is emerging in that area. It is an old part of Dublin that we all want to see restored to its former glory.
Senator Lombard referenced the issue of the Cork city and county local government structure. I join with him in hoping that there will be a conclusion to the matter. It is of the utmost importance to the people of Cork that this matter is brought to a successful conclusion sooner rather than later. Irrespective of one's viewpoints regarding the proposed structure, what is needed now for the people and structure of local government in Cork is a resolution that can be implemented so that we can have jobs, houses and services for people in whatever local authority in which they reside. I hope that whatever internal arguments, dissensions or disputes exist can be resolved quickly.
I have answered Senator Murnane O'Connor's contribution. In response to Senator Mulherin, I would be happy to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to come to the House to discuss flood defences because the Senator has referenced Ballina and Crossmolina on more than one occasion in the House. We have seen the CFRAM study but it needs to be implemented so that we can allay the fears of people in Crossmolina and Ballina.
Senator Boyhan raised national rehabilitation services and I am very happy to have that debate. I have submitted the request to the Minister's office and I hope it will happen in the coming weeks. Senator Butler raised the issue of Brexit. As we know, there was another round of negotiations on Monday following on from Prime Minister May's speech in Florence and her speech at the Conservative Party conference. The Government position has been quite clear.
In regard to our position, the European Union has made its position quite clear. The talks are continuing and I would be happy to have discussions again here in regard to Brexit.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh made reference to the issue of Catalonia. I have not seen the events in the Catalan Parliament today. All of us are concerned about what has happened in Catalonia. There are two sides. We saw the equally strong protest on Monday of the "Remain" side, if I can use that word. The Taoiseach has made the Government's position clear, that it is a matter entirely for the Spanish people. That is a view with which the Senator may disagree. That is fair enough. We are still in a democracy and I respect the Senator's right.
It has moved on from there, in fairness. International mediation is needed. That was the point I was making.
I respect Senator Ó Clochartaigh's right to have a view on that. The Taoiseach will make his views and those of the Government known at the EU Heads of State meeting. It is important that we allow the Spanish people to decide for themselves what they want to do. The referendum was deemed illegal by the courts, as Senator Ó Clochartaigh will be aware. However, there are two sides to the debate and I am not going to-----
That has not been adjudicated on yet.
I am not going to get into an argument here in the House because there is some way to go in the debate on that issue. However, it is important the concerns of the Irish Government in terms of policing and what happened on the day of polling are expressed. We were all concerned by that.
Equally, Senator Ó Clochartaigh will be happy to welcome the increase of €2.5 million in the allocation to the Irish language in the budget today.
Not nearly enough.
It will be provided in 2018-----
It is far below what we need.
-----with additional funding for the language and the planning process, including in respect of Údarás na Gaeltachta. As the Minister stated in his speech, our language is a vital part of our country. Senator Ó Clochartaigh does not like to hear good news but there is good news in the budget for the Irish language.
No. It does not go far enough. It is nowhere near what Conradh na Gaeilge asked for.
Senators can comment further on that in the next item.
I would be happy to have a debate on the diaspora. We have not had a debate for a while and it is an important one to have.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeannaire.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the gardaí. We all welcome the 800 extra gardaí. The Senator also made reference to an important issue in his contribution, namely, the inordinate delay experienced by the victims of crime. Those dealing with injuries are having to endure a five-year delay. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. Senator Colm Burke raises the point that it is unacceptable to see five-year delays.
Senator Warfield made reference to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the issue of the arts. Additional funding has been provided to the Arts Council, the Irish Film Board, Culture Ireland, the national cultural institutions and the Creative children initiative which has captured the public imagination. I am not aware that the Minister is not having a press conference - I am not a party to that - but there has been a strong commitment by the Minister, her Department and the Government to signal the legacy of the 2016 programme which puts creativity at the centre of public policy. I would be happy to have a debate on the arts in the coming weeks.
I note Senator Paddy Burke's contribution on an iar-Thaoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, and the other contributions.
I apologise for straying into the issue of the budget but many of the contributions were on the budget.
The Leader did not disappoint me. I guessed he would but not to worry.
Before I come to No. 1, I wish to be associated with the kind words of tribute to our late Taoiseach and leader, Liam Cosgrave. The Senators were accurate. They were all well made, well meant and richly deserved. He was truly a great Irishman and a thorough gentleman. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.