The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) 2016: Message from Dáil Éireann, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes in which to reply.
Order of Business
I want to raise two matters today. The first concerns a report from the European Committee of Social Rights, a European watchdog, which found there to be inadequate standards of living accommodation in certain housing estates in Ireland and shows that there has been a serious deterioration in the standard of accommodation since the financial crisis. The report names housing estates in Dublin South Central, including: Dolphin House, where residents have been living with sewage invasions; St. Teresa's Gardens; and Bridgefoot Street.
Many of these estates are in fact now being rejuvenated. The report, however, notes that the Government lacks a national timeframe for the refurbishment of local authority stock. As the House knows, we have a huge housing crisis and this report points to a further aspect of that crisis that needs to be addressed. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come before us and discuss how he intends to keep on top of the standards of our local authority accommodation stock. I have met many of the residents living in local authority housing around the city. One can often see black mould growing on the walls and children suffering from various health and lung difficulties. This is a serious matter that needs to be debated in this House.
The second issue concerns a new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, on projections for massive population increases which will put serious strains on health care by 2020. The figures in question were taken from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and the last census and show that there will be more than 1.1 million extra people living in this country by 2030. This will obviously put a huge stress on the health system which is, as we know, already under pressure with more people on waiting lists, longer chemotherapy waiting times, failures to get patients the right scans, and so forth. Our health system would currently seem to be in a crisis and more people relying on it further down the line will obviously deepen this crisis. I call on the Minister for Health to come to the House and discuss this report with us. We have not seen him here for a while so I would be delighted if he could come here to address the current health care situation.
Yesterday I sat and listened to the Taoiseach responding to Deputy Micheál Martin and stating that there was no crisis in the Defence Forces. The truth of the matter is that being 1,000 technicians short amounts to a crisis. Stepping away from the defence role of the Defence Forces, let us consider for a moment their frequently overlooked role in the security of the State. We have an Army Ranger Wing, for example, in the event of a terrorist attack or a hijacking. We have the bomb disposal team which is called out, on average, twice a week. Our forces are depleted, however, to the point that there are very few qualified officers available to that bomb disposal team.
Cyber security is also a function of the Defence Forces. The Engineering Corps, meanwhile, deals with ordnance and explosives and it too is greatly depleted. We can pretend that there is no crisis as much as we want. The Leader was right when he pointed out recently that a conference is coming up on this matter. There will indeed be a conference and I would say that things will get hot and heavy at it. The bottom line here is that we are in dire straits. I recently called for the Minister of State with responsibility for defence to resign and step aside in favour of somebody who is prepared to drive the Defence Forces forward.
Who would Senator Craughwell like?
Personally I do not mind. It is a matter for the Leader's own party.
Yourself? Micheál Martin? Or will we bring back Willie O'Dea?
Are we going to have an argy-bargy here?
I ask the Leader to allow Senator Craughwell to conclude. He is running out of time and the Leader is not helping the situation.
I am asking that a Minister be appointed who is capable of rebuilding the Defence Forces.
I have one final point. I spoke here yesterday on the issue of mortgages. Based on Article 30 of the Constitution, the Attorney General has a dual role in this country. One is as adviser to the Government on matters of law and the second is as defender of the public interest. What is currently going on with the banks is a matter of public interest and I wonder if the Attorney General has considered what role he might have in bringing these matters to a resolution.
I would ask that the matter be considered immediately.
I have just come back from the launch of Understand Together, if everybody can do tweets or hash tags on it. The HSE and the dementia groups in Ireland have got together to make television and radio advertisements starring brilliantly those suffering and experiencing dementia. These advertisements will go live today, on RTÉ television and radio. I want everybody to follow and promote it. It is about understanding together the difficulties that those experiencing dementia suffer. Every day 11 people develop dementia and 500,000 of us have a family member with dementia. They are a good, active group. They seek an understanding from us that we all have a part to play, no matter how small, even if it is only understanding, reading about and supporting it. This is an attempt to kick to touch the stigma that dementia sufferers feel they have been under. They have been locked behind doors for generations. We need to make our communities and society much more dementia friendly. I would ask everybody to get clued into it.
I want to raise two items. I want to raise the issue of the necessity for a second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, survey. This survey would cost in the region of €1 million. Given the various different court cases that have come to public attention over the recent weeks, and the issue of sexual assault and sexual violence in Ireland has been heavily debated, it is appalling that the Government can find €5 million for a communications unit but cannot find €1 million to undertake this study. I would ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality in here to discuss the issue of sexual violence and assault in Ireland and to justify to this House why €5 million on getting the Government's message out is worthwhile but €1 million to discover ways that we can tackle sexual assault and violence in Ireland is not.
I also want to raise the issue of the tracker mortgage situation. I want the Leader and this House to understand how serious this issue is for social cohesion in Ireland. There are young people and not so young people in disadvantaged communities around this country who are always on the wrong end of the law for minor infractions, be it shoplifting or public order offences. The book is thrown at them, left, right and centre if they get on the wrong side of the law, and they are looking at this situation in terms of the tracker mortgage scenario. I am sure they are wondering to themselves why bankers always seem to get more time and understanding, and that fundamentally, when it comes down to it we as a political collective do not seem to come to the conclusion that we are basically dealing with a mafia type mindset, an amoral group with no conscience who treat everything and everybody as secondary to their fundamental motive of screwing people until they can get enough money out of them. All they care about is profit and money but they will say the right things and they will do the right things in committees and come to meetings with Ministers. How can one look a young person in the face who is facing a court hearing or interacting with a juvenile liaison officer over some shoplifting or some public order offence? Everything is thrown at that young person, basically because he or she is poor, but this shower of bastards are getting away with murder, year in, year out, in this democracy.
That adjective is inappropriate.
It is a slight on the word. There are decent people. We have one in my family. He inherited a title.
Senator Norris, please.
We have been through a complete collapse-----
It brings good proletarian blood into the veins of the aristocracy.
-----which was caused mainly by their actions. We are now in a situation where things have been proven. I am glad Members in this House find it so amusing.
Senator Ó Ríordáin's time is up.
We are now looking at at least 30,000 cases in terms of tracker mortgage issues. We are also looking at people who have lost their homes and still the Government will say we can give the banks more time.
I thank the Senator.
I am trying to make the point - I am glad Senators find it so amusing-----
What did the former Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, do about it?
It is Senator Ó Ríordáin we find amusing.
Senator Ó Ríordáin is over the limit.
-----that young people and communities in socially disadvantaged situations view this matter quite starkly. When they are at the rough end of the law they get the book thrown at them but when the Government is dealing with banks, the banks get more time.
While I share strong views on the banks, I do not believe there is a need for unparliamentary language, as the previous speaker has used just to get himself a headline.
Today I raise the important issue of Dublin Airport. There are 12,500 people employed there directly and it is estimated another nine jobs are created indirectly for each job at Dublin Airport. In 2010, there were 18 million visitors through that airport and this year we expect 30 million. That is a reflection on the management of the economy and the great work by Tourism Ireland, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in attracting people, companies and tourists to this country. A lot of this was very much supported by the Fine Gael-led Government that was shared with the Labour Party.
My question to the Leader is the following. Could he please get the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport into the House so that he can outline his plans for the future transport and international transport arrangements in this country? We had been told that the civil aviation authority was the appropriate authority to deal with noise levels and adjudicate on them. We are now told that is no longer the case. The people of north Dublin, the local residents, need clarity on how this will be adjudicated on and the airport and the DAA need clarity because there is a huge ongoing programme there in the building of a new runway which is essential to the well-being of the airport and future development and jobs in the area and for the country. The current planning permission which is under appeal would reduce the number of passengers by 3 million if it were to be adhered to. This is an urgent matter, and one which the Minister needs to come into the House and address.
Arising out of the Leader's remarks to Senator Craughwell about who he might suggest might take the initiative in Defence Forces reform, as I understand it Senator Craughwell is taking the first steps to become, under the Constitution, Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.
Do I feel a nomination coming on?
Do I see Trump II?
As to what Senator Ardagh was saying about the projected increase in population of 1.1 million by 2030, the Senator also raised the need for physical planning to accommodate that. In particular, the Senator refers to local authorities having to get their act together. I merely wanted to raise the recent remarks of the Dublin city manager to the effect that public open spaces are to be the first target-----
That is what he is, a public open space.
-----in supplying land for redevelopment of Dublin. This shows me that there is not an understanding at all.
What is needed for Dublin is an agency for urban renewal. I have said this before in this House and I say it again. One cannot rely on Dublin City Council which, by the way, is the proprietor of most of the worst areas of dereliction-----
-----and neglect in this country, and which is demolishing half of its own estate now because of dereliction and poor management, to be the motor of Dublin urban renewal. I ask the Members of this House to go and look at Ballymun after its so-called regeneration. It is a bleak place. It is no more a community now than it ever was in the past.
If one wants to regenerate cities, one must build to a greater density.
If we are to build to a greater density, attacking public open spaces is the wrong thing to do. Private enterprise and local authorities cannot regenerate Dublin adequately. There must be a specific agency tasked with that function and it must have powers to compulsorily acquire private property and regenerate precincts, streets and the like according to plans. This is not novel. It was done in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Wide Streets Commission. It is time we returned to decent urban planning in Dublin and abandoned the low hanging fruit of soft options that are irrelevant in the context of what Dublin needs.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come to the House for a discussion on the school meals programme and after-school care services? The Taoiseach talks regularly and aptly about the need to create a republic of opportunity. No schemes are more beneficial to children by creating a level playing pitch for young people than the school meals programme and homework clubs, the after-school support service. These interventions support children who are the victims of various levels of poverty and lack of opportunity, perhaps where overcrowding can prevent a child from doing his or her homework and in situations where diet is inadequate or meals are not provided. Teachers and people who understand education say the main requisites for academic success are that children sleep properly and food and support be provided after school. For that reason there should be a review. This year an extra €1.7 million was provided and 245 new schools were included, bringing the number of children benefiting from the programme to 247,000 nationally. That is good, but there is more potential when we have more resources. Rather than directly increasing the universal payment, we should consider increasing and widening the extent of the school meals programme and, second, seek to provide support for homework clubs after school. I realise there are subsidised after-school care places for a certain cohort of the population. We must examine how that support service is working and consider its expansion. I wish to see every school in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan and throughout the country benefiting from an enhanced programme.
Ba mhaith liom ceist an chláir JobPath a ardú arís inniu. Ba chóir deireadh a chur leis an gclár scannalach amach is amach seo. We have raised the issue of JobPath on many occasions, but I commend my colleagues, Deputies John Brady and Denise Mitchell, for issuing a report which required much research. It is an issue that is increasingly being brought to our attention. I receive many telephone calls from individuals who are very unhappy with the service provided. I consider it to be something of a scam. It is interesting to read some of the notes from people who have worked for the JobPath programme on what it was like to work with it. They tell us the pressure on staff is immense and that a greater focus is placed on administration work than on dealing with clients. With the best will in the world, not much can be done in a half-hour appointment, especially when one is busy taking notes. Many believe there was no value in clients attending. They said some in senior management appeared to have no managerial experience or qualifications, were deeply insulting to staff and jobseekers alike and that clients were not treated with any sense of dignity. We are aware of the knock-on effect of JobPath on community employment schemes. It is hugely detrimental. When people go on the live register and supervisors ring to get the latest list, they suddenly find that everyone has moved to the JobPath programme and are not available. As a result of being unable to get people, there is huge pressure on local community employment schemes which are doing fantastic work. There is also huge frustration for jobseekers who are not receiving any support in seeking employment under the scheme which is privatised. Two companies are running it and making a fortune. As shown in the report, they are paid by the number of clients they have and the number of times they see them. It is time we ended this scam. We should invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss what can be done instead of availing of the JobPath programme. It is not a question of whether it should be scrapped but when it will be scrapped. From my point of view, that should happen sooner rather than later.
It is time we took a radical approach to the banks, in which we already have public interest directors, but where in the name of God are they? They were in place at the time of the financial crash and did nothing. They seem to be there still, sitting on their hands and collecting €100,000 every time they pass "Go". They are absolutely useless and doing virtually nothing. I also heard somebody calling for the introduction of the European Central Bank, ECB. Are they mad? It would be like putting Jack the Ripper in the Supreme Court. The people in the ECB are the ones who bankrupted Ireland by forcing us to discharge the gambling debts of the French and German banks to the tune of €60 billion.
Some time ago there were very good Irish language lessons for Members of the Oireachtas. I attended one or two and they were good. I understand one Member of the Dáil, Deputy Mattie McGrath, comes from the Tipperary Gaeltacht and has little familiarity with the English language. It seems he was shocked to be described as "mesmerising" which just means fascinating. He should not have taken umbrage; rather, he should have been thrilled to bits.
That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
Perhaps, out of Christian compassion, we could organise English language lessons for the Deputy.
That is a personal attack on Deputy Mattie McGrath who is not here to defend himself. It is most unfair. It is extraordinarily unusual for the Senator to castigate somebody in the other House.
I was just laughing at him.
He might have the last laugh.
I am delighted that two Opposition Members are being positive this morning, one about the report of the ESRI and the other about the JobPath programme. The prediction that there would be an inflow into the country resulting in 1 million more people is welcome. It is due to positive economic development by the Government in the past six years. I am delighted that Senator Catherine Ardagh is being positive this morning. However, we face major challenges, particularly in the health service. The good news is that three hospitals are being built, but now we must move the emphasis to areas outside Dublin and, in particular, the Munster region. In the past few years there there has been an increase of over 250,000 in the population of Munster where a centre of excellence is required to serve Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Kerry and Clare, even though there would be a natural flow from Clare towards Galway. A centre of excellence in the provision of health care in Munster should be part of the overall plan. There are two voluntary hospitals in Cork, but they do not have sufficient space to deal with current numbers. As there has been an increase of 130,000 in the population of Cork, we must work on developing and fast-tracking that development which should be part of the national development plan. Will the Leader bring this matter to the attention of his Cabinet colleagues? In particular, will he invite the Minister for Health to come to the House to set out the programme for the development of hospital facilities in the next ten to 15 years? The last new hospital in the country was opened in 1998. I am delighted that three new hospitals are being built.
I wish to respond to my colleague on the JobPath programme. We have experienced the biggest decrease in the level of long-term unemployment in the past 12 to 18 months; therefore, something must be working. Furthermore, there are more than 230,000 additional people at work. I do not consider it to be a valid criticism of a scheme that was established to ensure people would be given the opportunity to return to education or find a job. That is the positive outcome of the JobPath programme.
I know my colleagues on the right will welcome the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, coming into the House to tease out some of the issues around JobPath and to evaluate whether the €350 million being spent on it and the €17 million that was spent on it last year is justified. I look forward to that debate and I hope it happens sooner rather than later.
A word that I know this week which I did not know last week is "admonish". Now we know what admonish means thanks to the Minister for Finance. I have followed this as a member of the finance committee, where we have worked together on the matter. We now know that admonish means to smack on the wrist, or a wag of the finger, and it also means to maintain the status quo. It means that one will not be given any more sweets until one has tidied up the house a bit.
As a member of the finance committee, I am greatly disappointed in the Minister for Finance's response to the banks. The banks were already scheduled to be here, these were not special appointments and while the tracker mortgage issue was the most serious matter to be discussed, I cannot see where anything has shifted from the presentations which the banks made to the finance committee to those made yesterday. That concerns me a great deal in relation to the banks' intentions to clean up their act and compensate people in the manner necessary for what was done to them.
The finance committee will continue that work and I look forward to the banks coming in again in early January and to the Minister of Finance coming into this House to explain what he means by "admonish". Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.
We had a good news story in Limerick city yesterday. Regeneron, a world leader in the manufacture of cutting-edge life saving drugs, announced a further 300 jobs in addition to the 500 which it already has there. It has scaled up over a three-year period to have 800 jobs in place by the end of 2018. It has already invested €650 million and will invest another €100 million in building a new facility of 100,000 sq. ft. alongside the existing facility of 400,000 sq. ft.
To put it in context, some years ago Dell discontinued its manufacturing facility in Limerick. It continued to be a great employer there but many thousands lost their jobs. Regeneron went in there just over three years ago in a 400,000 sq. ft. ghost factory facility and refitted it, spending €650 million. Some 500 people work there today and there are another 290 ancillary and temporary workers, bringing the total to 800. By the end of 2018, there will be over 1,000 working on site. They will have 250 people involved in construction of the 100,000 sq. ft. facility. It is to be commended and I congratulate Regeneron and the workforce.
With everyone's indulgence, on the tracker mortgage issue, everyone has lost sight of the primary reason for the Minister's meeting with the banks. I am also a member of the finance committee. We had four witnesses before us with Mr. Padraic Kissane. They were credible, honest and encapsulated, in a short period, what people had been put through by the banks over tracker mortgages. They wanted their money and they are entitled to get it back. The banks are withholding the tracker mortgage victims' money; it is not the banks' money, it is their money. It brings to mind the old saying "resting in the account". The banks had the money resting in their account. For those 13,000 people, their main focus is having their money repaid.
Go raibh maith agat.
No, I feel strongly on this.
I also feel strongly. The Senator should listen for a moment. He used a minute and a half to praise some job announcement in Limerick and now he wants extra time.
Someone has to put the real position on the record.
I have been very lenient and I want the Senator to finish up, please.
I will finish. These 12,000 will be paid by the end of the year. Furthermore, by the end of the year we will know the full complement of people who are affected. We will then move on to ensure that whatever legislation or regulation is required, banks can never rip off customers again. It is a three-pronged approach. People are entitled to get their money back. I do not want anything done to delay that process. That is why the Minister stepped into an area that is normally remitted to the Central Bank.
I received my property tax bill recently. I pay it in one go rather than monthly. I would like the Leader to bring the Minister in to tell me what exactly I am paying for. I do not know. Am I paying for leaves, filth, roads, stuffed drains, graffiti and cars parked on foot paths? What am I paying for? I do not know what I am paying for. I want him to come to the House and tell me what I am paying this money for.
I have watched the situation with the banks. I wrote about them in 2009. One thing that is not being raised is how in Ireland we have no competition for our banks, 95% of them are commercial, whereas in Germany only 14% are commercial, the majority are either social or community banking. We do not have that. There is no competition yet we have possible collusion.
What has happened to the Bank of Scotland, Ireland-----
It is gone.
-----which left this island? It left this island with the deeds of my house and has not been seen since. When I attempted to contact the bank, I learned it was now owned by Pepper, the vulture fund. This is another investigation that is coming down the line. We have nobody to talk to, we do not know our legal rights, we do not know what we signed or did not sign and it was just taken from us. I am delighted that the Government is doing what it is doing about tracker mortgages but there is another problem ahead. Bank of Scotland, Ireland, no longer operates on this island and it has taken our deeds and none of us knows where they are or where to find them.
I remind Senator McDowell who spoke of low-hanging fruit and soft options, which is the kind of language one would hear in Ranelagh, that I lived in Ballymun for 25 years. The Senator might have passed through it on the way to Ranelagh. I lived there and I loved it. It was full of community and action-----
It is not any more.
-----and education and full of the interaction between education and community. All generalisations are dangerous, including the ones I make myself, but the Senator's remark this morning about the lack of community in Ballymun should be withdrawn. He might be spending too much time in the restaurants of Ranelagh, with their low-hanging fruit, soft options and soft furnishings.
I know a failure when I see a failure and I do not think Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has been in Ballymun very often recently.
On a lighter note I congratulate Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin and wish them well in their new positions. I am delighted to see that they are being replaced by an all-female line up. The two women, Keelin Shanley and Caitriona Perry, have an excellent track record as broadcasters and journalists.
There is no gender pay cut there.
Ordinarily it seems as though boards, committees and line ups are dominated by men and they have to have a woman for balance. I am pleased that these great women will anchor the Six-One News. Six-One News and the Nine O'Clock News are staples of the Irish viewing public where many get their news and they develop a deep relationship with these broadcasters and a great affection for them. I wish the two who are departing well and look forward to hearing them in their new positions, and likewise for the two taking over.
Could the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, before the House to discuss the draft renewable electricity support scheme? It is a great opportunity to discuss how we can expand our complement of renewable electricity sources to solar and offshore wind and how we can bring about community involvement. One of the specific objectives envisaged in the draft renewable electricity support scheme is that favour will be given to projects where communities are asked to get involved.
It must be explained to communities what that pathway might be in order that they can get involved because it is not clear. It involves money. I would like to hear from the Minister, especially as we have come under pressure to meet our renewable electricity and energy targets.
I wish to raise the issue of education this morning. I got a note from the local school on Wednesday telling me that our two children would be spending the following day at mass. There are two big religions in my household, Limerick hurling and Tottenham Hotspur, although not necessarily in that order, but we do not practise any other religion. In fairness to the school when I wrote to it, our children were allowed not to have to spend the day in the church, and I was pleased with that.
However, it brings to mind the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, is currently pursuing. It does purport to end the baptism barrier, which I welcome, but I must ask the question, given the diverse nature of our country in 2017, because even by Fine Gael standards the Bill is particularly conservative.
That record has been played.
It is nice to have the Leader back. It does not tackle the fact that 96% of schools-----
The script does not change this week.
-----are still controlled by the Catholic Church at national level. For a diverse country, one that purports to be a republic, we must and can do better than that.
We have the best education system in Europe.
Senator Gavan should be allowed to speak without interruption.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. What I am seeking is a debate on the issue. We need to define, for example, what is meant by a non-denominational school and a multidenominational school. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has asked for that. In 2017, it is not appropriate for almost 96% of national schools to be under the control of the Catholic Church. We need to move to a democratic model of education. As a republican party, that is our policy and our position. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister to the House in order that we can debate his admissions Bill and, it is hoped, make it a lot more progressive than it is currently.
It is the most democratic system.
I ask for ciúnas. I call Senator Lombard.
He is talking absolute rubbish.
Who? Senator Lombard. He has not even started talking yet.
Thank you, Chair.
Hold on. Whatever Senator Gavan may have said, he is entitled to speak and he was interrupted six times by the Government side. That is wrong.
He had to be challenged.
The Leader will have a chance to respond and I hope Senator Gavan will not interrupt him. That is my motto. I call Senator Lombard.
I wish to raise transatlantic flights from Cork Airport, or more to the point, the lack of them. We have a service at the moment from Norwegian Air, which is a very positive step for the region. We have three flights a week which are 90% full. That has meant a lot for the tourism industry in the southern region. Unfortunately, on 7 October, Aer Lingus stated it has no plans at the moment to launch a transatlantic service from Cork Airport. We have seen the increased visitor numbers in the southern region, in particular from the US, due to transatlantic flights. We need to promote the region in the north American market in particular, and it is unfortunate for the national airline, Aer Lingus, to state it has no plans to step into this market. Currently, 90% of the flights leaving Cork are full. Norwegian Air has tapped into the potential that exists, but we need to promote the area more and ensure that Aer Lingus comes on board.
In many ways the low-hanging fruit of Dublin Airport has been the major driver for Aer Lingus. The airline is using Shannon Airport to a degree, but it is all about Dublin. We must expand and look at other regions, especially the southern region. Aer Lingus has a remit to look at that. It is providing a limited service at the moment to Europe, which can be enhanced. Senator Colm Burke has done great work in showing how out of step the fares Aer Lingus is offering from Cork are with its fares from Dublin. We must redress the balance and get transatlantic flights into Cork. We need Aer Lingus to come on board. It is important that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport would come to the House to have a debate about aviation and how we can promote all regions in the country.
There is a touch of mid-term breakitis and giddiness in the Chamber. I support Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's call for a discussion on property tax and to bring the Minister to the House. She and I, along with three other Senators, are all residents of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Although it is the smallest county geographically - it is 5 miles wide and 8 miles long - it generates more property tax than the whole of Connacht.
I will not even talk in hundreds, I will talk in thousands, because the average bill in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown when it was first estimated was €686. A total of 4% of houses in Westmeath are valued at more than €200,000 but I do not think 4% of houses in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are worth less than €200,000, and that generally means not that people are rich but that they have much bigger mortgages and far more debt. We saw figures yesterday showing that 55% of people's income in Dublin is going on rent or mortgages. The cost per head is much higher but it does not mean that everyone living in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is necessarily wealthy. The 15% discount on the property charge of €1,000 brings it back to €850. Of that €850, the sum of €200, which is 20% of the original figure, goes to the equalisation fund to fund the 19 of the 31 local authorities that get money from the equalisation charge. The amount of €600 replaces grants that used to exist so-----
-----60% of the money paid in is money that was coming anyway but is not coming anymore from central government as we are paying for it ourselves. Of the €1,000 original charge and €850 net charge, €50 is all the extra money the officials of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have to spend on behalf of the people. For every €1,000 levied, even allowing for the 15% discount, which is sometimes derided, although as a councillor I gave such a discount, in the most expensive county in the country, €50 is all that the local authority is left with as extra funding for libraries, swimming pools, traffic lights, footpaths and everything else.
It is important that we would have such a debate. I commend Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on raising the issue.
I was interested to hear what my colleague, Senator Horkan, said about the property tax. I live in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and I still have a Fianna Fáil leaflet on my desk which came in my door. At that stage the party was unequivocal as it did not know what it was talking about in relation to property tax. The leaflet said it was the wrong tax at the wrong time. Members will recall that leaflet. I have copies, which I kept because I thought they were interesting. They said it was the wrong tax at the wrong time, but I say it is the wrong tax at any time. It is an outrage, it is an unjust tax, it takes no account of people's ability to pay and it should be reformed. I put a marker down here today to Members of all parties and none that this will be the hottest political issue on the agenda in the next general election. I and many others in this House and the other House will make it the hottest political topic on the agenda because people are fuming. They are enraged. They pay their taxes and stamp duty. As the Taoiseach said, they get up early in the morning. We want to get up early to do a hard day's work, be paid for it and keep the profits of our toil. Let us not be afraid of hard work or of the word "profit".
I bring to the attention of the House that the public consultation on the national planning framework ends next week. I wish to be positive. It is an excellent plan. It is a major master plan for the economy and for the strategic development of this country. The plan is important and is to be welcomed. I made a plea this morning at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and I make a similar plea to the Leader. Will he consider speaking to the Minister with a view to extending the public consultation for one further month? I do so not to obstruct the national planning framework but in order that we can engage as widely as possible with the citizens of this country and get them to buy into the plan so that it becomes a successful plan. The public consultation will close next week and the notice period needs to be extended for one more month.
I raise an issue in the health area, specifically preventative health. We do a lot of talking about fiscal space and I do not know whether anyone fully understands what they are talking about in that context, but the reality is that we would have a lot more fiscal space in the economy if we took a much more preventative approach to health care. I apologise if reference has already been made to it, but with that in mind, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is due before the House soon and I wanted to give the Leader the opportunity to let us know when that is, because we have to stand up as legislators on this point.
We have to be brave on it. We need to implement the vast majority of the Bill that came before the House. The citizens need us to do that. We have a broken relationship with alcohol in this country and we cannot compare ourselves to other countries in Europe. It has gone beyond the stage where comparisons of that nature are worthwhile. I believe and hope that it is coming to us soon. I think it needs to be implemented and become policy in this country for the citizens, not for big business.
I wish to raise one issue relating to school. A parent of a senior infant child in Firhouse Educate Together contacted me. I do not usually raise things based in Tallaght. I usually try to steer away from that, but I believe it is important in this case.
On budget day, it was announced that schools would look to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio. However, the situation in Firhouse at the moment is such that the school, which has seven classes, has now been reduced to six classroom teachers, and one of those is the principal. Some 44% of the pupils, 171 pupils in total, have special educational needs. There has been a reduction of two teachers in the school, which has only been open for five years. It is a relatively new and developing school. The situation will result in one junior infant class with a size of 30 pupils, and 13 of those children have special needs. One senior infant class has 32 children, 14 of whom have special educational needs. Given the goals set by the Government to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, perhaps the Minister for Education and Skills could come before the House to discuss this and update us on his plans and how he plans to support schools, especially those with a high proportion of children with special needs.
I think Radio Éireann is butting in.
It is Radio Luxembourg.
Senator Feighan is next.
I do not normally commend the HSE, but on this occasion I wish to congratulate the executive on its awareness campaign for people, especially elderly people, to avail of the 'flu jab. A dangerous and difficult strain is out. Members were able to avail of the jab. This is something that we should articulate and pass on. It is vital for people to avail of the jab, especially elderly people - although I suppose we are all elderly to a certain extent. I believe it would help to ease the pressures on the medical services.
I thank the 18 Members here this morning for their contributions on the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh made reference to the European Committee of Social Rights versus Ireland. Senator Devine raised this matter on Tuesday on the Order of Business as well. I remind the House that the committee did not find against Ireland in respect of any violation of the many provisions of the human rights charter.
The issue of social housing and the associated conditions referenced by Senator Ardagh arise from the condition of Dolphin House and St. Teresa's Gardens in Dublin city. Regeneration of Dolphin House has commenced since the complaint was made to the ECSR. The first phase of the Dolphin House regeneration project is currently under way and on-site. This phase consists of a €25.5 million refurbishment plan. It is hoped this work will be expedited such that we can get residents back into their homes and into the area. The regeneration of St. Teresa's Gardens is under way. Again, significant funding has been given by Government to Dublin City Council for a variety of works, including moving tenants out, enabling works and demolition with a building element of 50 units in 2018 to commence as part of phase 1.
Rebuilding Ireland is happening. The work has commenced. The importance of community and of people living in their areas is very much to the fore in the policy of Government. Sometimes we see headlines in a newspaper or people jump up and down about reports being raised.
The Leader has not addressed the question I asked. He is not answering the right question.
They ignore the fact that investment is taking place. It is about people being able to stay and live in the communities where they grew up. Let us be fair about it rather than coming in here every day to try to denigrate Government and say nothing is happening. Action is happening.
Senator Ardagh made reference to the ESRI and the Department of Health. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is prioritising the whole issue of health through the Sláintecare report and the long-term strategy for health. Senator Burke referenced the matter earlier as well.
I agree with Senator Ardagh. It is absolutely important to plan for the future, invest in primary care, in taking people off trolleys and allowing for them to be treated in their communities. Senator Burke referenced the issue of building. The Government has a capital investment project in the area of health. We also have significant investment in the health budget. Government will take the lead in some cases in determining how and where the money is spent.
Senator Craughwell again raised the issue of the Defence Forces. I am sorry he is not here for the reply.
Again, I wish to acknowledge, as I did on Tuesday, that there are issues of retention regarding members of the Defence Forces. Whether he chooses to recognise it, the fact of the matter is clear: recruitment is under way and investment is ongoing, including in new naval ships, capital projects and equipment. There has been an increase in budget 2018 to reverse the pay cuts and restore pay levels of members of the Defence Forces.
If Senator Craughwell wants to be Commander-in-Chief, then he must be aware of all the facts. He cannot simply cherry-pick as Uachtarán of our country. He should be aware of all the issues. Despite the fact that he might be getting bad advice, the buck stops with him. I realise that he is going to the PDFORRA conference this week and next week and that the association is his nominating body. That is his prerogative. However, we should be aware of three things. The issue of cyber security is, first of all, a sensitive matter that we cannot have in the public domain such that everyone knows what we are doing to counteract it. Second, it is an all-of-government approach. It is not only a matter for the Defence Forces; it is across every Department.
Third, if Senator Craughwell is not aware, he should be aware that the Defence Forces have an issue that they are addressing in terms of working collaboratively on defence networks. That is happening. Equally, he should be aware of the question of pay of members of the Defence Forces. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has established a pay commission that is looking at the issue of public pay. As Senator Craughwell knows well, there has been a reversal of the FEMPI cut. I wish to put on record that the Army bomb disposal unit has responded to 85 cases this year, plus hoaxes. The explosive ordnance disposal unit has responded to all call-outs. Let us put that on the record as well rather than some of the issues we hear from Senator Craughwell.
I join Senator Devine in raising an issue that is to the fore in many of our homes and communities. Many of us have family members and friends who are affected by dementia. The need for a national dementia strategy has never been more apparent. I join the Senator in welcoming the establishment of Understand Together. I know the launch was today and I am sorry that I could not get to it. I thank Senator Devine for giving me the badge in the rain. It is an important issue that we need to see highlighted collaboratively on a cross-party basis. It is about ensuring that we put in place proper funding and a proper strategy. It is important that people, not only senior citizens but people of all ages, who are affected by dementia are treated and get the quality of support, care and understanding they deserve. I will work with Senator Devine in that regard. I thank her for her comments this morning.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report.
It is about ensuring we understand what the Government is doing. Through legislation and investment, it is investing in tackling sexual and domestic violence. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said in the Dáil on Tuesday that if the experts tell the Government that the €1 million for a new study is needed it will be provided. The Taoiseach has asked the Ministers, Deputies Zappone, Flanagan and Harris, to examine the statistics. We are constantly receiving statistics from different agencies. The question is whether we need to commission another report. The Taoiseach has made it quite clear that if we need to update the research on sexual violence the money will be found and we will examine the issue.
The Garda and CSO have the figures. I am a member of the policing forum in Cork. There has been an increase in reporting there, which is to be welcomed. People have the courage and bravery to come forward so we can shine the country's glare on the atrocities people experienced inside and outside their homes.
As Senator Noone said, there has been an increase in minor public assaults in Cork linked to the night time economy and alcohol. I will return to the alcohol Bill later.
Tusla has had €22 million made available to it. Let us join together on the issue and have value-for-money so we can eradicate and highlight the issue.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to the tracker mortgage situation. The Government is committed to tackling the issue. Senators O'Donnell and Conway-Walsh also referred to the issue. Senator Conway-Walsh used the word "admonish". Banks have been called to task. They will be forced to account for themselves. As Senator O'Donnell said, the fundamental goal of Government is to ensure justice and recompense for those who have been so badly treated. It is a disgrace and we cannot condone what happened or allow it to continue. That is why the Government has acted and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has brought the banks in. They will be held to account. Whether they are admonished, scolded or held to account, the wording is irrelevant. The outcome is what we will be judged on. That is what the Government will do.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of JobPath and activation measures. Sometimes I wonder whether we should come in here with bad news every day. Is it not a great sign for our country that unemployment is down to its lowest level in over a decade and a half, that more people are back at work and that the JobPath programme has been a success? Activation measures have worked. There is silence. There is no welcome. There are no congratulations for those who are back at work. They are the citizens, in our republic, who want to go out and contribute.
We do not believe in privatising our social welfare system.
I do not believe we could have a single model of delivery for our country.
We do not.
The Senator should come in some day and say it is great that people are at work and able to fend for themselves, provide for their families, make a contribution and feel good about themselves. Inequalities are being reduced. The best way to eradicate poverty and a two-tier country is to have people at work earning a just and fair wage.
Look at the facts.
I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the success of JobPath and the activation measures which have enabled people to get jobs. That is a most fundamental point.
The Cathaoirleach has ruled on Senator Norris, therefore I will not address his admonishment of a Member of the Lower House. I will leave it at that.
Senator Colm Burke raised the need for the national development plan to include investment in our hospital system. Like the Cathaoirleach, I come from the city of Cork. I ask that, as part of the national development plan, we have a commitment to the development of a new hospital for Cork. We are well served by our existing hospital, but there is overcrowding in Cork University Hospital and the two voluntary hospitals, the South Infirmary and the Mercy, are in need of refurbishment.
We need to ensure a new centre of excellence is created not just for the Cork region but also beyond. As Senator Burke said, it is about ensuring we have investment and can tackle significant health issues and ensure people access treatment and care. A new hospital for Cork would serve the community in the Munster area well. As Senator Burke said, there has been an increase in its population. That should be developed as part of the hospital infrastructure facility framework. I join with Senator Burke in stating that there is a need and demand for the hospital to be built.
Senator O'Donnell also welcomed the Regeneron jobs for Limerick announced yesterday. I am sure Senator Gavan would join in that welcome.
Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Horkan and Boyhan raised the issue of property tax. I would be happy for a debate in the House on the issue. As Senator Horkan knows quite well, it was part of the deal signed by Fianna Fáil and the troika. We need a debate on taxation because we cannot go back to a model where we expect a few to pay for everything. Whether we change how we impose taxes, let us have that debate. We cannot have an expectation that the Government provides everything and no one pays for anything. I know people are not saying that, but let us have that debate.
Senator McDowell made reference to the need for what I would call a quango for Dublin. I would be somewhat worried about creating a new structure. We already have a city council-----
Which is useless at its job.
That is Senator McDowell's opinion. I would be happy to have-----
It spends €750 million a year and has 6,000 employees. It is useless.
I have to defend the work of Dublin City Council in the main. I would be happy to have a debate in the context of the discussion and planning. I hope to have a debate on the national planning framework after the mid-term break.
I join with Senator Mulherin in welcoming the appointment of Caitriona Perry and Keelin Shanley, who will be the first all-female panel to host "Six-One News". It is a wonderful innovative announcement by RTÉ. They are very fine journalists and broadcasters and I wish them well. I thank Bryan Dobson for being a safe, steady pair of hands during his tenure on "Six-One News". Those who had the pleasure or displeasure of being interviewed by him know he was always very courteous and fair. We wish him well in his new appointment. We also wish Sharon Ní Bheoláin well as she moves on to a different career in RTÉ.
Senator Mulherin also asked for the issue of climate change to be discussed, and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of education and the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the house. I hope his children were not at mass for the entire school day, because it would be a long mass if they were. We live in a republic and we are democratic. I welcome the fact that the Senator was able to make a decision and that his children were not penalised for that. The Minister will return to the House to deal with the Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill.
Senator Lombard referred to transatlantic flights out of Cork. I join with him in congratulating Cork Airport on its strategic vision. It attracted Norwegian Air to Cork. It means passengers not just in Cork but also Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Clare and other parts of the country can use Cork Airport from a transatlantic point of view. The flight to Providence, Rhode Island, is a very positive departure for Cork and has brought another dimension to the airport.
It is a very good flight, and I have been on it. A strategic marketing fund needs to be made available. There is a duty on all stakeholders, including Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, the city and county councils, the Department, the Irish Hotels Federation and tourism bodies, to work with Cork Airport to promote the flights and the airport.
Last week, Senator Colm Burke referred to the flights out of Cork. Aer Lingus must use Cork Airport as a hub for its transatlantic flights and for travel to European and non-European destinations thus offering customers greater choice. The more people who fly out of Cork Airport the greater opportunity to reduce the price of flights.
Senator Noone has been a very strong champion of preventive health measures. I am pleased to announce to the House that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 will be back with us when we resume after the mid-term break, provided the House votes to adjourn for the break at the end of the day. It is important that the Bill is passed. It is important that the ambiguity by some parties in this House about the public sale of alcohol is brought to a head and they make their decisions known. I agree with the Senator that it is time the legislation was enacted because we, as legislators, and as a society must address the misuse of alcohol.
Senator Ruane raised an issue about the Firhouse Educate Together school. I am unfamiliar with the issue. My advice, if I can use that term, to her is to table a Commencement matter or she can contact the Minister. From my own experience of schools, the pupil-teacher ratio is based on the number of pupils in the school. Unfortunately, I have not got the information for her regarding same.
Senator Feighan made reference to the 'flu vaccination. It is important that we all lead on this matter. We must show our support for the vaccination through social media, and in our constituency advice offices and clinics. We must ask people to engage with the HSE to avail of the 'flu vaccination, which is the best way to prevent the 'flu.
Senator Boyhan made a good point when he called for the deadline to lodge submissions for the national planning framework to be extended. I know the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is anxious for the process to conclude. I believe extending the deadline by a fortnight is appropriate. Therefore, I join with the Senator in his call for an extension. I understand from talking to officials in the Department that they are anxious for the process to conclude but it is important that people contribute. Last week on the Order of Business, Senator Murnane O'Connor asked people to make submissions. I reiterate that it is important that people make submissions. I shall convey Senator Boyhan's request to the Department.