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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Oct 2017

Vol. 253 No. 10

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on Northern Ireland, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes - time can be shared - and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, motion regarding the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes - time can be shared - and the Minister to be given no less than four minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m., with time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

John Bradley of Queen's University Belfast once said that policy neglect seldom goes unpunished. The Revenue Commissioners have produced a comprehensive report on Brexit that the Government has not released. It outlines the fact that the 91,000 Irish companies that trade with the United Kingdom will be subject to massive regulations and customs declarations in the event of a hard Brexit and the UK leaving the customs union and the Single Market. The report says that an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be impossible from a customs perspective and it would be naive to believe a unique arrangement can be found.

This House needs to debate that report. It should be made available to the public. It is not our job to design the Border for the UK or to predetermine the outcome it wants, although it does not seem to know what it wants. Its policy is it wants to have its cake and eat it. That is not, as John Bradley would point out, a policy at all. The Revenue Commissioners' report needs to be debated by this House because in the event of a hard border with a hard Brexit we will, under our obligations as a member of the European Union, have to put in customs posts along our border with the UK. There are over 345 crossings between the North and the South. During the Troubles only 20 of those were open. We need to plan and prepare for what Britain may or may not do. We must be prepared for all eventualities. I know the Leader would agree that, given that the report was leaked and is in the public domain, it is important that we debate the Revenue Commissioners' analysis. It is an independent analysis which Government asked it to carry out. We need to see what the cost will be, not only for the State to put these customs posts in place but also for the 91,000 companies that trade with the UK. What will happen at our ports in Rosslare, Dublin and Cork as a result of this? What kind of delays will there be? What will be the practical implications of the extra space required, buildings that need to be built, storage units to be put in place now, not with six months to go, and Britain crashing out of the European Union as seems to be its destiny, which is within its own hands? We cannot assume that it will have its cake and eat it because the European Union is certainly not going to bake it and neither will we.

We have to prepare and help companies that will face these extra tariffs and customs arrangements, financially, as announced in the budget. It is not nearly enough but it is a step in the right direction. We must help them. That independent report needs to be debated by this House, the other House and all the committees, which have produced reports on Brexit, including the Seanad special committee, chaired by Senator Richmond. I hope the Leader will facilitate that debate.

I apologise for going over time yesterday. I lost the run of myself at one stage but I will make up for it today.

Welcome to the club.

I accept the Senator's apology on behalf of the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Last week the Rohingya community fleeing Myanmar was described to me as the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in decades. They have been called the world's most persecuted minority, an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim and who have lived for centuries in the majority-Buddhist Myanmar. An estimated 1.1. million Rohingya live in the south-east Asian country. Today the United Nations said that Myanmar's systematic crackdown on the Rohingya is aimed at permanently expelling the minority Muslim community from its home in Rakhine State. It is estimated that over half a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the commencement of this strife. The World Health Organization has warned of a cholera epidemic in refugee camps and settlements close to the Bangladeshi border with Myanmar. It was reported earlier this week that a boat carrying 100 people sank near Galachar, a coastal village in Bangladesh.

Nearly 100 people were on board of which 40 were adults and the rest were children. Only two people were rescued alive and the others are missing. I fear these instances will continue.

We need to call this crisis what it is - ethnic cleansing. It is taking place in front of our eyes. This country has a moral obligation, along with the rest of the global community, to do more to put a halt to what is taking place. We also need to do more to provide urgent aid to those refugees. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the Seanad to outline how Ireland's voice will be heard and what more we can do.

This morning I expected to be debating and opposing yesterday's budget but I am not going to say anything about the budget or Brexit because yesterday afternoon the sad news came through about the passing of Neill O'Neill. Instead this morning I wish to express my sympathy to the family and friends of Neill O'Neill, the managing editor of The Mayo News, who died very suddenly yesterday at the age of 36. I extend my condolences to his partner, Emma Joyce, his parents Colam and Mary, his brothers Conor and Finbarr, his sisters Aoife and Orla and, indeed, all the family that makes up The Mayo News. Senators may remember Neill from the RTE documentary on regional newspapers. Local newspapers, like The Mayo News, provide an invaluable source to communities and report the issues that are central to them in a very honest and transparent way. If one wants to know which issues really exercise people one only needs to peruse one's local paper or listen to the local radio station.

When dealing with the many problems facing rural Ireland, it is refreshing to look through the local and regional newspapers and to listen to local radio to see and hear about all the wonderful volunteers and the sporting and cultural activities that go on away from national headlines and hold communities together. Neill O'Neill epitomised all that is good about regional and local newspapers, community and community activism. He showed that through all the different groups that he was involved in, whether it was the GAA, the chamber of commerce or the many groups that serve to support rural Ireland. He understood his readers and contributors. He treated them all with respect and fairness across the board. He and his team on The Mayo News epitomised the kindness, understanding and sincerity required when reporting sensitive issues that affect people at the most vulnerable times in their lives. For that, I thank him and the team of The Mayo News and, indeed, many of the regional newspapers for such work. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.

I wish to express my concern to the Government about the continuing detention of the Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, in a Cairo prison. Despite his acquittal in an Egyptian court over three weeks ago, news reports yesterday indicated that the paperwork to secure his release had not even been begun by the legal authorities. I am concerned about the effects that continued detention of an individual who has been declared innocent of any crime is having on him and his family. Other acquitted prisoners have been released in a matter of days. I seek an assurance from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade that the Irish diplomatic presence in Cairo is extending all its influence on behalf of Ibrahim and his family.

Brad Youngblood from the Tahrir Institute of Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, was quoted in The Irish Times this week as saying: "The odds that the delayed release is due to the paperwork and bureaucracy surrounding the implementation of court orders in Egypt are very low." He also said that it is very likely that elements of the Egyptian judiciary or security services are acting to slow or prevent Ibrahim's release. If this is true, can I be assured that the Government will increase the level of pressure to ensure the rapid return home of Ibrahim Halawa?

I wish to raise two issues. First, I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss education. I am a little perturbed by yesterday's budget in terms of what it does for education. It is quite clear that many of the opportunities that were open to the Government were not taken. Clearly, the Minister has shown in the recent past that he has no interest in equality when it comes to teachers' pay. He also has no interest in free education, which is quite clear from the budget announcements that were made yesterday. There has been no effort to reduce the cost of going to school, no interest in raising the capitation that schools receive and no interest in alleviating the cost of going to college for students. I would appreciate an opportunity to have a conversation with the Minister on these matters. It is quite depressing that the new communications unit will receive €5 million. That amount of money would have done a huge amount to pay for schoolbook rental schemes in primary schools in this country.

Second, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to debate the status of a Government document launched four years ago, entitled the Right to Read campaign. The campaign focuses on literacy and achieving literacy excellence in every local authority in the State. The document acknowledges the fact the library system, the housing stock and the environment in which children are raised have a huge influence over educational attainment. The document is called the Right to Read campaign because the State has acknowledged that every child has a right to read.

I raise this matter because there is the possibility that a library in Donaghmede in my constituency will close in June 2019. I understand that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government pays for half of the rental cost for the library currently and that when the lease ends such funding will no longer be available. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the status of this Government document that was launched in 2014. I want to know whether he still believes in the Right to Read campaign, if the State is still willing to fund local libraries and if he will ensure that the library in Donaghmede will not close due to a lack of funding from central government.

I rise today to raise a tourism issue. Today, a competition called Eurowings will be streamed live on Facebook at 2 o'clock. Shannon Airport is one of three airports in the final. The other airports are in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Italy. I encourage everyone to go online and vote for Shannon Airport to win the route because we want to encourage as many tourists as possible to come to Ireland. Shannon Airport is part of the gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way. Whichever airport receives the most votes, and it is an unusual way to select the route, will be the airport that will be selected for the new route from Cologne. I encourage as many people as possible to go online and cast their vote on the Eurowings page between 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock today.

Last night a competition called Limerick Going for Gold took place. The competition is for the many community groups that volunteer to clean up their streets and areas. Many people put a lot of work into their communities, be it in floral displays or whatever. My own residents' association, South Limerick Residents Association, won €5,000 in the competition last night. I wish the association all the very best. I know that the money will be very wisely spent in the community. I can attest to the fact that volunteers clean the streets between 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock in the morning two or three mornings a week. They do good work in the community.

I wish to express my concern about the change in the stamp duty legislation. Agricultural land has been bundled with commercial rates for the past number of years. Yesterday, an increase from 2% to 6% was announced as a means to take money from those with development lands and commercial properties. Unfortunately, the initiative will also catch agricultural landholders. With Brexit on our doorstep, farmers are again facing an uphill battle in terms of this matter.

In terms of the Finance Bill, I am curious to know whether agricultural lands could be exempt from the 6% charge. The initiative is very unfair and will not help the agriculture industry.

The Leader might be able to provide clarification. Where development lands are being "hoarded", the term they are using at present, there will be a stamp duty of 3% in the first year, 7% the following year and 7% the year after on lands that are not brought into use. Does that apply to zoned lands or lands with full planning permission? I am curious to know.

I rise today on the important issue of the recent changes to the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme., GLAS Many Senators will be familiar with the GLAS scheme. Last week the Irish Farmers' Journal carried a major story on an immediate change in the GLAS scheme. It is coming into effect immediately. It affects farmers who will no longer be permitted to graze cattle - those who want to have out-wintering stock - in designated areas. They will not be able to feed forage, hay or silage on parcels of land that have been assigned under the low-input permanent pasture scheme under GLAS. I have received representations from local representatives in the following areas: Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Clare, Offaly, Wicklow and Kerry. They are now seriously concerned. We are in the second week in October. These are farmers who bought into the GLAS 1 and GLAS 2 schemes. They were given grants. They made preparations about out-feeding. They have had no time to put slatted houses or structures in place. There are penalties being introduced with immediate effect. If one has five hectares in the scheme, the penalty will be €1,500. The Teagasc inspectors whom these farmers and communities contacted had no idea of it. They, in turn, had to refer to the Irish Farmers' Journal to find out. Clearly, this is an enormous scheme, particularly for farmers in these regional and low-lying areas who are out-feeding their cattle.

There should have been at least a lead-in scheme. What are these farmers saying? I understand some of the reasons it is happening, about compression and about the impact on the land. It is particularly low-lying land in these designated areas. There was agreement entered into under GLAS 1 and 2 for these payments and they should be at least given a lead-in time for change so that structures would be put in place. There was an understanding that the places of fodder would be removed on-site and that is not now addressed.

It is a clear issue. It is the lead in the editorial in the Irish Farmers' Journal again this week. It is an issue of concern, particularly to small farmers. I ask the Leader if we could have the Minister come and explain the background to it and whether there is any leeway for this year so that there could be a greater lead-in. If one is going to bring in change, particularly to a scheme that farmers have already bought into, they should have some advance notice. From talking to a number of Teagasc officials yesterday, I am aware that they themselves were unaware of a scheme. They are, effectively, meant to be monitoring this scheme in rural areas.

I also want to be associated with the condolences expressed to the partner and family of the late Neill O'Neill, managing editor of the Mayo News, and indeed, to all his work colleagues and those further afield who worked and had dealings with Neill. It is truly shocking. I am sure the family are completely shocked to think somebody 36 years old in the throes of his work is gone now. I suppose it is a reminder to us all of how fleeting life is.

I ask that the Leader would make an intervention with the Minister for Health on a serious issue concerning the urology department in University Hospital Galway. Last week, I tabled a Commencement matter which stemmed from an issue brought to my attention by the family of an elderly man who was in Mayo General Hospital since 19 September waiting to get into urology. This man is seriously ill with cancer. The hospital in Castlebar, by its own admission, could do nothing further for him and he needed to get to University Hospital Galway, which is a centre of excellence, to be seen by the urology department. He was being advised to go to the emergency department and he is so sick he is not fit to go there. He was discharged home on the day of my Commencement matter, which was Wednesday. Yesterday, his family got confirmation from Galway that he would get an outpatient appointment for January 2018. Now this man, as I said, is seriously ill. He was discharged after being told by the doctors in Castlebar that he needed to get into urology as soon as possible, and them directing him to go to the emergency department.

I received a letter from the Saolta Group, which is responsible for Galway, Castlebar and the other hospitals in that region, telling me there are a number of patients in Saolta hospitals waiting to get into the urology specialty in Galway. Something is seriously wrong in the urology department in Galway when a man so ill is given an outpatient appointment for January 2018, notwithstanding the fact that I raised it. I should not have to raise this here but I have, and I raised it last week. I am asking the Leader to address it as a priority. This is a seriously ill man. His family are gutted about this and I do not blame them. I am asking that the Leader, when he leaves here today, pick up the phone and talk to the Minister for Health about what is going on. Let us get some accountability from the HSE and from the Saolta Group in respect of what is going on in Galway. Let the truth be known and let the issues be addressed.

I want to raise the funding of the Sláintecare programme. It was raised briefly by some Senators in the statements on the budget yesterday. I would like the Leader to give clarification on the health measures announced in the budget. I saw this morning that the Minister, Deputy Harris, tweeted about the Sláintecare report in reference to the budget. This is disingenuous as the budget simply does not allow for the implementation of the report. It seems as though the hours and hours of hard work and dedication given to the report were just to keep the public representatives happy and distracted, when key recommendations were ignored. From my party's analysis, when the funding required to cover pay restoration of the Lansdowne Road agreement and the increase in demographics is taken into account, the Government is actually underspending and not making any real investment at all in tackling the crisis in health care. It would be funny if it was not so serious.

This morning some Government Deputies are saying that, in comparison to my party's alternative budget, the Government outspent Sinn Féin on health. This is false and delusional. It is incredibly worrying that Government Deputies cannot read a budget expenditure sheet and have confused my party's additional increases, suggesting they are as poor as their total increase. Sinn Féin's alternative budget allocated an additional €403.5 million to health over and above demographics and the pay restoration of the Lansdowne Road agreement, which was costed at €1.2 billion. All of this was to be fully costed within the context of my party's wider alternative budget, inclusive of tax measures to fund these increases. We have outspent the Government on this because we know that health is in an emergency situation and it is a priority. There are severe pressures arising year after year, from the young and the old, on the demands on the crumbling services. I ask the Leader to clarify why the Sláintecare report was largely ignored in the budget. If he is unable to do so, I ask him to ask the Minister to come in and provide this House with an explanation.

I raise this morning the need for the Leader, with his colleagues in Government, to take immediate action on the entire banking system of the country. I welcome a number of initiatives in yesterday's budget, including the housing strategic investment fund towards which the Government is putting €750 million and the announcement of the new Brexit loan scheme on the back of last year's budget's affordable loan scheme. We are like the mother trying to cajole her young child into eating his dinner with the spoon being an aeroplane. We are having to put funding into the banks to compensate them to reduce their interest rate to make these loans available for the people. We bailed out the banks. We will still be paying for that exercise for many years to come. We were told at the time that an effective functioning economy would not work without a banking system and yet we are, like the mother trying to cajole or cod the child into eating his vegetables, trying to persuade the banks to act. We are having to put incentives before them. We are having to put in funding to compensate them to reduce their interest rate. All the while, they are avoiding taxes - it was well documented recently - and hammering those who were on tracker mortgages. As my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, stated, they are now saying it was a mistake they made but, coincidentally, all the pillar banks happened to make the same mistake involving the same vulnerable sector at the same time.

It is about time the Government introduced the necessary legislation. The banks need to be hauled in. They need to be doing the banking, not the Government.

The measures in the budget are very welcome. They are needed to stimulate areas that need stimulus, but we should not be putting money into loan schemes. Last year, the affordable loan scheme for the agriculture sector in particular was introduced. The pillar banks were signed up and I know for a fact that while a number of them just ticked the boxes to keep the Minister happy for the affordable loan process, they then gave short-term stocking loans as opposed to what the scheme was intended for and got their money back within a year. They had ticked the box for the Minister and moved on. If a proper banking system is working in any economy, they should be providing the stimulus.

We talk about health services. I am aware of a primary care unit, which is badly needed, that is ready to commence. Everything is in order in terms of all the parties involved and planning permission, but the bank is not playing ball. It is time that we hauled them over the coals and whatever legislation is needed is introduced to ensure we have a proper functioning banking system, not fancy buildings with counters people are not allowed walk up to.

In yesterday's budget, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal O'Donohoe, made reference to the new accident and emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, which is an outstanding facility but is only one part of the equation. The second part of the equation is the building of a 96-acute-bed unit alongside the new accident and emergency department. I hope that when the new capital plan is published, the 96-acute-bed unit on the University Hospital Limerick site will be included. A number of months ago, the HSE agreed to my request to provide more than €100,000 to allow the design phase of this 96-bed unit to get under way. That is now in place so no further time is being lost. I would like to see the funding provided.

I will make a brief comment on the budget. First, the biggest issue with housing, apart from other issues, is supply. The measures introduced in the budget will bring about further supply. It is a three-pronged approach. The vacant site levy will ensure that people do not sit on sites and that they are either built on or sold for development. Second, there is a €750 million strategic investment fund available to couples and young people who are looking to purchase houses at a reasonable value. Third, the stamp duty now comes in line with that in the United Kingdom but if someone purchases a site and develops houses on the site, they can apply for a refund of the increased stamp duty paid. That has been lost in the debate. The measures that are being brought in will bring about additional housing, and supply is the key issue in housing.

I might remind Senator O'Donnell that some of us have been calling for the 96-bed unit since 2009 when a report came out calling for that, but I am glad the Senator has joined us.

With due respect-----

I want to ask the Minister-----

-----I was calling for it long before 2009.

Through the Chair.

You keep calling and he will deliver.

I was calling for it long before 2009.

It is eight years so far.

I call for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come into the House because after the bluff and bluster from the Government and Fianna Fáil yesterday, I want to talk about the reality in Limerick. I cite a real life example of a 19 year old lady who is eight months pregnant and earns €100 a week, which was halved by the Leader's Government. She has to give €30 of that in housing assistance payment. She lives in a flea-infested hovel. She has to give another €45 each week to her landlord to make up the difference in terms of the HAP. When she went to the community welfare officer on two occasions she was told, six weeks before she is due to give birth, that she should declare herself homeless and move into a shelter. That is the reality of the Government's response on the ground. That lady has no support from family or anybody, and that is not her fault. It is what the community welfare officer said to her. She has no money each week to eat. Thankfully, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul intervened to ensure she has some food as of Monday. That is the reality on the ground for people in Limerick today, and it is nothing less than an absolute disgrace. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister into the House with the utmost urgency because our people are being let down daily by his Government.

I, too, want to speak about the budget. I was very disappointed that post offices were not mentioned. We have 1,100 post offices in Ireland but there is fear of 400 being closed. A programme should have been put in place to keep extra services, whether through motor tax or tourism. We are promoting hubs through housing. Why not promote our rural post offices as tourist information centres where tourists can go to get information? That issue was neglected in the budget yesterday and that needs to be addressed.

There were great announcements in the budget about Leader. We are all involved in Leader. The Leader programme plays a major part in my local area but that programme started in 2014. It is now 2017 and not a penny for Leader has come from Government. Applications have been submitted for about 20 projects. Ten have been approved and not a penny has come into our local authority. I know for a fact that other local authorities have not seen a penny either.

I say "Well done" to the Taoiseach on the new Department of Rural and Community Development. That is a good initiative but the Minister must do the job he is supposed to do and put the funding into local authorities. In my local authority, we were told that €624,830 was approved and would be given, with the possibility of approximately €1 million by the end of the year, but this has been going on for three years and we will be lucky to see the funding in 2018. It is important that in terms of new announcements in budgets, what has been already announced needs to be delivered to local authorities such as mine.

The Leader might ask the Department that some sort of programme be put in place to save rural post offices thereby ensuring that the 400 post offices under threat will not close.

Tá mé ag ardú ceiste anseo atá tromchúiseach go leor agus atá ardaithe agam roinnt uaireanta cheana. Some time ago we had a statement in the local media in Galway that the Sisters of Mercy are to transfer the ownership of the building at Lenaboy Castle, which was acquired by the order in 1925, to Galway City Council, along with a payment by the nuns of €750,000 for renovation and development. This was a protected structure on Taylor's Hill and it was run by the religious order as an orphanage, a children's home and an industrial school. Latterly, it was a HSE West social care centre for children and adolescents known as St. Anne's.

I have raised previously my concerns about this venue. It is to be used by Galway City Council as a creative hub for arts groups and young people's groups. I have been approached by people who would have had connections to the home and I have also spoken to Catherine Corless, who brought to light the issues around the Tuam mother and baby home. We have concerns that there may well be a burial site at this place as well. I believe that before any development is allowed to go ahead, a fundamental archaeological survey must be done of this site. It is my understanding that Galway City Council may well have done that previously through its heritage officer and, if so, it should make the findings of that survey available. We should not have any development of a children's creative hub at that site until we are absolutely sure of what is on it. A more forensic archaeological investigation may be needed if anything is unearthed but from contacts Catherine Corless and I have had, we have serious concerns that there may well be another children's burial site at St. Anne's or at Lenaboy Castle. It is something that needs to be investigated. I call on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to examine this issue and when she is free to come into the House and update us on the work of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, the supports that are being given to survivors, etc.

I thank the 15 Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business. I join Senators Conway-Walsh and Mulherin in extending sympathy to the partner and the family of the late Neill O'Neill. I had the pleasure of meeting him and of knowing about him.

As Senator Conway-Walsh said, for him to be taken away so suddenly in the prime of his life is very upsetting and distressing for his family, partner, friends and work colleagues. I wish to pay tribute to him for the work he did and was doing. As far as I know, he sent this week's newspaper to the printers just before he passed away. It just shows one the fragility of life and the importance of living every day to the full. I join Senators Conway-Walsh and Mulherin in expressing sympathy to his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílís.

Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of the Revenue Commissioners' report. It is not actually a report but an internal working paper. It is not an official document so we cannot debate it. It was a technical look at the possibilities so I do not see the need to have a statement on an unpublished report that is not really a report. Having said that, what we must do-----

Can we not at least comment-----

It is disappointing that Fianna Fáil's Brexit spokesperson, Deputy Donnelly, played politics with the issue last Monday on "Morning Ireland". What we must do is wear the green jersey, which Senator Daly does, in fairness, in the context of Brexit. The Taoiseach has made it quite clear that we do not want any return to a border on our island and there is unanimity on that issue in this House. Our aim is to ensure that the UK remains within the customs union or that a new customs union is developed. I am happy to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to the House to provide an update on Brexit, given that he is the lead Minister in that area.

I wish to digress briefly to compliment Senator Daly on his fine performance on the "Claire Byrne Live" programme on the Irish national anthem last Monday night. I look forward to Senator Coghlan chairing the Seanad Public Consultation Committee meeting on that issue.

We will not talk about solo runs.

Any time Senator Coghlan wants to talk about football, in terms of solo runs or hand passes-----

Let us leave it to the Public Consultation Committee.

-----marking the man, not the ball-----

I hope there is no breaking of ranks in the Kingdom.

Senator A

It is a Kerry trait.

Senator Coghlan often wears the green and gold jersey.

That is a fair point.

I have been known to wear the black and yellow jersey too.

Senator Lawless raised the very important issue of the human rights of the Rohingya people. The refugee crisis is a damning indictment of the Burmese authorities and a solution must be found immediately. Aung San Suu Kyi has to do more than condemn what is happening because it is within her gift to bring about change. I hope that our Government, through the United Nations, can play a role in providing support to the people to whom the Senator referred. A huge and appalling tragedy is unfolding before our eyes and collective action must be taken.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of Ibrahim Halawa. The delay in his release is unacceptable. I have spoken to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about the matter. The Minister was also on "The Pat Kenny Show" on Newstalk this morning speaking about the issue. The delay is purely bureaucratic. The Egyptian authorities have taken the view that all of the detainees must be taken together and that they cannot deal with Ibrahim Halawa separately. The Minister and the Government have asked the Egyptian authorities to fast-track his release. There is daily communication between the Irish Government and the Egyptian authorities. We all want to see Ibrahim brought home immediately.

Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the budget for the Department of Education and Skills as referenced in yesterday's Budget Statement. I am somewhat alarmed that the Senator did not read the Budget Statement. It was the biggest budget for education in the history of the State.

So was the budget for health.

Senator Devine will be interested to know that the education budget will see a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio, more special needs assistants, more teachers, a return to the provision of career guidance as well as the building of new schools under the capital development plan. The Government of which Senator Ó Ríordáin was a member built more schools than any Government in modern times. I am a bit surprised that he did not see that in the Budget Statement. Notwithstanding that, his comments around the Right to Read campaign will be supported by all Members. Literacy is important and the library in Donaghmede to which the Senator referred is important in this context. I know that the Senator is leading a campaign focusing on that library. Libraries have always been at the heart of communities. They are an important and valuable asset and I certainly hope that the library in Donaghmede will be retained.

Senator Byrne spoke about the Eurowings vote today involving Shannon Airport in Limerick, and I wish Shannon Airport well in that. I also join Senator Byrne in congratulating the communities in Limerick on the huge voluntary efforts they have made to keep the city and the towns in the county clean and vibrant. The Limerick Going for Gold campaign is wonderful and is strengthening those communities further. It is important to pay tribute to the volunteers who go out, as Senator Byrne has said, so early in the morning.

Senator Davitt made reference to the stamp duty changes and the issue of land. The Finance Bill will be coming before the House for debate and it is important that the Senator would suggest any changes he considers necessary in the areas to which he referred during the debate on that legislation. I am happy to speak to the Senator following the Order of Business to arrange that a note be sent to him on the matter from the Department. In some cases, it is very much a matter for local authorities in terms of how land is zoned, but having said that, the Senator raises an important issue. While agricultural land is a vital and valuable part of our infrastructure, equally important is the need to develop land for housing. We must get that balance right but I would be happy to discuss this further with the Senator later.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has announced the reopening of that scheme. In terms of the payments, it is disappointing that delays have occurred. Approximately 2.5% of GLAS I and GLAS II applicants have yet to receive payments. Only 0.5% of 2015 applicants are still awaiting payment, while 98% of payments for 2016 have been made. The issue causing the delays, as I understand it, is the lack of a farm nutrient management plan. I am happy to pursue the matter further with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on behalf of Senator Boyhan. I am also happy to arrange a debate on GLAS with the Minister.

Senator Mulherin raised the issue of urology in University Hospital Galway. The facts of the case she outlined were disappointing to hear. I am happy to raise the matter with the Minister of Health. Senator Devine and I are going to lock horns yet again on the issue of health. I am disappointed that the Senator, who is a health professional herself, did not read the Budget Statement on health. I will repeat some points for her, in the hope that they will sink in. I welcome Senator Devine's new-found interest in the Sláintecare report, but as Senator Colm Burke rightly said here yesterday, Sinn Féin did not support Members of this Chamber being part of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare that produced the Sláintecare report. It is a case of crocodile tears for the Senator to come in here today and criticise-----

It is a question of resources.

On a point of order, the Leader is going off on a tangent again.

It is crocodile tears.

He seems to have been very hurt by that but he needs to get over it.

I am not hurt at all but what I-----

Let us discuss what I raised.

I intend to do that as well, but it is ironic that the parties are on the radio, reading from the old one-pager from Sinn Féin, because they cannot find anything to criticise. The health budget announced yesterday is bigger than that contained in the Sinn Féin document, with €646 million in current expenditure-----

The Leader did not read our report.

I did and it is voodoo economics.

The Leader is delusional. He is absolutely deluded.

Sinn Féin is a tax-and-spend party.

We will send a copy of our document to the Leader in order that he can read it.

He does not want to read it.

I ask Members to respect the Chair, please. I suggest to the Leader that it would be wise not to encourage too much fire from-----

It is important to set the tone in terms of what is happening in our country. Some of the Sinn Féin Members do not see the value of being in government. To be fair to Fianna Fáil, while we disagree with its Members on many matters, they at least want to go into government, and when they do-----

The two parties are well matched-----

Thanks for the support.

We would welcome Fianna Fáil on the Opposition benches.

The problem with Sinn Féin is that it will not go into government in the North or the South and it is also absenting itself from Westminster. The good news, and the Cathaoirleach is right that I should hammer home the good news for Senator Devine and her colleagues, is that an additional €646 million-----


This is the good news that Senator Ó Clochartaigh might like to hear. I do not think he has a press release about it but he might just do me the courtesy of listening to the good news. There is €646 million in current expenditure, more than €200 million of which will be for new developments.

That is an additional €471 million for capital over the period from 2018 to 2021. The health budget for 2018 is €15.3 billion, which is the highest in modern times. What that means is the Minister for Health is establishing the NTPF, which is an initiative to reduce waiting times and increase access to emergency departments. The problem Sinn Féin has is if we do that it will not be able to come in here and complain because it will be good news. Its members will not come in welcoming the addition.

Not while there are 700,000 on the waiting list. It is five Croke Parks.

There is €75 million in the budget for reducing waiting lists. I hope Senator Gavan will welcome this. Does he welcome it?

By how much will it lower the list?

The lists are going up.

All the Sinn Féin Party wants is a wealth tax. Tax and spend is all it wants. It is not interested in good news. That is the good news - €75 million - but Senator Gavan cannot even welcome it.

The INMO has described it as fake news.

We have too many interruptions. Sometimes the Leader is inclined to draw fire and all sorts.

I fully agree with Senator Daly on the banking system in our country. There is an absolute need for the banks to recognise they must work with people, whether those in business or agriculture or homeowners. Senator Daly welcomed the fund for agriculture and business in the budget, but the point is-----

It is not enough.

He is absolutely correct that the banks must work with people and there needs to be accountability. What is happening with our banks now is they are creating faceless and peopleless banks. When we walk into banks now in parts of Cork city, there is no one in them. There are only machines, and this is not good enough or acceptable. Senator Daly is absolutely correct with regard to the bigger picture he raised, and I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to have a discussion on this.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick and the capital development plan. He is correct there needs to be investment. Others will talk but he will deliver for Limerick, and that is the importance of being in government. He is also right about the housing supply. The measures in the budget will lead to additional housing. We had a debate on the budget yesterday. The Government is committed to investing in and building social houses. We have a building plan, Rebuilding Ireland, which will deliver.

I am not familiar with the case raised by Senator Gavan this morning on the Order of Business. It is unacceptable no matter who or what our ideology is for any person to be treated in the manner he described. I am not familiar with the case, but if he wants to give me the details I will be happy to take it up with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and for the Minister to come to the House.

I will write to the Leader and I thank him.

The Minister will be in the House in a couple of weeks. Anybody would recognise the importance of this. I do not have the details of this individual case but, to my knowledge, there is a mutual agreement between the person and the HSE, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or the Housing Agency. I am happy to take up the case with the Minister for the Senator.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of post offices, which is very important. The budget does not list everything, but the Government is committed to the post office service and the Bobby Kerr report has been published. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the matter in the House in recent weeks. It is important to recognise there needs to be an agreement between the Postmasters' Union and An Post, and the creation of new services and facilities in our post offices should be considered and actively pursued.

I am not familiar with the issues raised by Senator Murnane O'Connor regarding the lack of funding for Leader or the lack of payment. It is a matter for the Leader programme co-ordinator in Carlow. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will be able to look after it. We will be happy to speak about it afterwards.

The money is still with the Department.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the very important and sensitive issue of the Sisters of Mercy and Lenaboy Castle. The points he raised certainly need to be investigated if they have not been. I am not familiar with the issue he raised because it is a matter in Galway, but if there is a possibility that children are buried there it needs to be investigated thoroughly and properly by Galway County Council and the relevant authority. It is a matter predominantly for the local authority, but the Minister, Deputy Zappone, will be in the House next week and we can have that discussion. The Senator can raise it with her as part of his contribution. It is an important and a sensitive issue which needs to be examined but I am not familiar with the case.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.25 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.