The Order of Business is No. a1, motion re Fourth Report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, and No. 1, statements on councillors' conditions, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
I congratulate the gardaí in Ashbourne on two successful raids. We learned from the assistant commissioner this morning that these drugs raids were worth not less €5 million. This seizure is a major disruption to the drug gangs and organised crime gangs in our country. It was a joint effort on the part of the national drugs and organised crime bureau and the special crime task force. I congratulate the gardaí and say to them to keep up the good work and the momentum. Unfortunately and disappointingly, I also learned yesterday from a constituency colleague, Councillor Dáithí de Róiste, who chairs Dublin City Council's joint policing committee, that 19 murders have been committed in the city so far this year. The figure is up 33% on this time last year, and only one of those murders was linked to the Hutch-Kinahan feud. I call on the Minister to ensure more resources are provided for the special crime task forces as well as the regular community gardaí. We have had many representations from both urban and rural councillors on the lack of visibility of gardaí on the ground. Having gardaí on bikes and in cars can be useful in preventing crime, especially burglaries around the city and in rural areas. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House today, or next week, to have a serious discussion on crime.
I deeply regret revisiting the Jadotville issue this morning but I have no choice. Somebody somewhere is not telling the truth. I received the a copy of a message which I understand is from the Department to members of veteran associations. I will spare the House the introduction but it goes on to state that this is not a medal parade or a medal ceremony but a medal presentation and that the reason for this is the time of year and the possibility of inclement weather. It further states that it is necessary to have the recipients and families indoors for the presentation, which is why a marquee will be used, and that it is important to note that, in order to have a dignified event, which will take some time to present medals to 49 Jadotville veterans and 170 Jadotville family representatives, they must be as comfortable as possible. It further states that the limitation of guest numbers is due to the restricted space in both the marquee and the dining complex.
I served in Athlone. The barracks square in Athlone is as big as this complex. There is no shortage of space. The veterans concerned deserve the right to go up to the Minister. Incidentally, I believe the Minister has nothing to do with this. I understand he is out of the country on business-----
Given that this is the third day he has raised the issue, I ask Senator Craughwell to distil and outline his concerns and what exactly is the major issue.
I will do that.
I cannot give him any information unless I know exactly what it is he wants rather than a general-----
It might also be helpful if Senator Craughwell were to send a letter setting out his concerns to both the Leader and the Minister. If he does not get a response, he can raise the matter again next week.
I am trying to be helpful, as the Senator knows. I am not against what he is trying to achieve.
I know that and I know that Senator McFadden is also deeply concerned about the reaction of veterans and deeply committed to the military in Athlone. Very simply, veterans want to be able to go up to the Minister, salute him, and have their medal pinned on their chest. Those who are not able to walk will happily be wheeled up and those who are not in wheelchairs and still unable to walk will be carried up because they deserve that level of respect. They want their colleague veterans on the square in Athlone to witness this event.
Which colleague veterans?
Members of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association and the Organisation of National Ex-servicemen and Women.
Does the Senator mean a representative group or everybody?
Every one of them who turns up.
How many are there?
For starters, there will be two bus loads from Galway.
Put a number on it.
I cannot put a number on it today. Will the Leader tell me a number? One hundred?
I do not know. I am trying to be helpful, a Chathaoirligh.
I think 100 would be a reasonable number to expect.
I do not think we can resolve this today. The Senator has made his point on successive days and his time is more or less up. I suggest that he, through the Leader or the Minister, have this resolved by next Tuesday. If not, I will allow him to raise the matter again on Tuesday.
I deeply appreciate that, a Chathaoirligh. I wish to say to the Leader that I do not believe anyone on that side of the House is doing anything to obstruct this. I believe the Leader himself and Senator McFadden are bending over backwards to try to get this solved. I want to acknowledge that on the floor of the House.
That is why I am asking the questions. It is to be helpful. We are not trying to obfuscate or to obstruct-----
I ask the Senator to correspond directly with the Leader and the Minister, setting out precisely the problem. It seems to be back and forth every day here ad nauseum and I am not sure if we are going forwards or backwards. I think we are standing time.
I thank the Leader for his understanding on the matter.
Tá muintir na Gaillimhe arís i mbun tóraíochta ar dhuine a chuaigh amach ón droichead ansin i nGaillimh.
Unfortunately, another search and rescue operation is under way in Galway for a person who has been lost in the river. It has become a regular occurrence in the city in recent years. We hope that the operation is successful and commend all those involved in search and rescue for the incredible work they do under difficult circumstances. It highlights some of the issues that we see in Galway in the area of mental health and particularly among young people. Recently, a suicidal teenager was rescued from the Corrib and was subsequently turned away from University Hospital Galway. It was reported that she was dripping wet from a drowning attempt at the Wolfe Tone Bridge. She was assessed by a triage nurse in the back of an ambulance and deemed unfit to be admitted to the hospital. She kept insisting that she would take her life and was brought to a cell in Mill Street Garda station for her own safety. When her father collected her from the Garda station she was insisting that she would repeat the suicide attempt. They drove to the emergency department where she pleaded with medical staff to be admitted. She was once again refused and she remained in a distressed and unco-operative state. On the night in question, she had taken a cocktail of alcohol and drugs prior to jumping in the water at the Wolfe Tone Bridge. Her life was saved when she was rescued by a garda and a member of the public. There are reports of similar cases, such as the man with self-inflicted open knife wounds, and another man enduring a paranoid psychotic episode who were left waiting in the emergency department until he left and jumped into the Corrib, taking his own life.
There is a very serious issue with mental health services in the west. It is something I have highlighted on many occasions, particularly regarding drug and alcohol services in the Galway-Roscommon area which seem to be significantly understaffed in comparison with other regions. This crisis arises from chaotic mental health services across the country. The Psychiatric Nurses Association has informed me that a high dependency unit will be closed by the end of the month, and the Minister has confirmed this. Members of the association have quite rightly balloted 80% in favour of industrial action for the safety of patients and staff. They have not done so for personal gain but from a duty of care. Where is the Government's duty of care to the people of Galway and the staff who have been pushed to the end of their tether? I would like a debate on mental health services, particularly in the west, because the Galway-Roscommon mental health area is completely understaffed compared with other areas, where I know there are problems, but the situation in Galway-Roscommon is particularly acute.
On 11 July last, just one week after onshore fracking was banned in Ireland, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, granted consent to Providence Resources PLC to commence drilling for oil in the Porcupine Basin off the coast of Kerry. This is one of a slew of drilling operations which the Minister has recently permitted, with the north Celtic Sea Basin off the coast of Cork and Kish Basin off Dalkey's 40-Foot swimming area next in line. They will drill for 45 to 60 days throughout the summer without a proper strategic environmental assessment. In a desperate plea for investment they have stated that they expect to find 5 billion barrels of oil.
I want to ask the Minister to the House to debate the social, environmental and economic impact of these drilling licences. In June 1991, the Irish Government declared all waters around the Irish coast to be a whale and dolphin sanctuary, the first of its kind in Europe, however the seismic blasts from exploration and drilling are deadly for marine mammals and cause disorientation, deafness and internal bleeding within 100 miles. One blast killed 64% of zooplankton, the basis of the marine ecosystem for up to 0.7 miles.
We cannot afford to explore for or exploit any more fossil fuels. International climate experts warn that 80% of known fossil fuels must stay in the ground in order to avoid exceeding the 2 degrees limit of global warming. The Minister recently spoke to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the IMPACT trade union on the need for a just transition to a low carbon economy. In banning fracking in working on climate action, the Minister claimed that he would protect workers in Bord na Móna, farmers and tourism, but here he shows that he has no intention of protecting their transition or providing a consistent policy pathway for green investment. In complete double speak, he is inviting the destruction of our coastal fishing, seaweed and tourism industries and our marine ecosystems for one of the lowest Government tax takes for oil and gas in the world. Extraction of oil and gas from Irish seas is not even profitable. Shell Oil recently left the Corrib gas field with losses of €2 billion. The granting of these licences is a slap in the face for young people of Ireland. As one peer-reviewed study in Earth System Dynamics has noted, "if massive emission reductions do not begin soon, the burden placed on young people to extract CO2 emitted by prior generation may become implausibly difficult and costly."
This new fossil fuel infrastructure investment will lock Ireland into a completely discredited economic model that serves neither people nor planet. Recently, I put down amendments to the fracking Bill to ban offshore fracking and all fossil fuel exploration which was very well received in the south. I call on the Minister to revoke these licences and follow France's lead by halting permission for oil and gas exploration in Irish waters.
I think that matter might be better dealt with in a Commencement notice, to ask the Minister to come before the House to secure a response. It is difficult for the Leader to respond to everything. The matter would be appropriate for raising during the Commencement debate, if the Senator would consider doing so.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I wish to raise the matter of school transport which was previously raised in the House by a Member of the Opposition. I want to concur with the remarks made by Senator Conway-Walsh earlier this week. I was not present then, but it is something that the Minister needs to address in the House. It is farcical that a leaving certificate student must apply in April for a bus pass the following September. There are students in Cork who having failed to get sufficient points, are repeating their leaving certificate examination but after six years of taking the bus to school, they now have to make their own way there. This is illogical and there is no give and take on the matter in the Department of Education and Skills, which does not seem to grasp the issue. Its view is that the students did not apply in time. That does not work, it is a farcical scenario.
It is important that the Minister come before the House to address this situation. If he does not, I will have to tell anyone who comes to me that pupils in sixth year should apply for their bus pass in April just in case they have to repeat their leaving certificate. It would be farcical if 100,000 extra children had to apply for school transport who most likely would not need it but it is the only way that those who repeat will be able to get a seat on the bus. The system is broken. There is no leeway and this must change. The Minister must address this incredible anomaly that he appears to have walked away from. It is something which has caused great trouble to families who not only have to put up with the expense but also the stress. The Minister must come to the House next week and give the parents and students clarity. At the moment, we are getting nowhere.
I congratulate the Garda on the excellent drugs find in Ashbourne last night. I echo my party leader's call this afternoon for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House to discuss rural crime in particular. As my colleague, Senator Leyden, pointed out last week, rural crime is on the increase. If the State authorities do not tackle this, local communities will be forced to provide policing themselves. None of us wants to see that. It can end in tragic results and people can end up before the courts as a result of defending their own property, as we have seen in recent weeks.
We have had a farmer brought before the courts because he produced a gun in an attempt to protect his own property, while those who were attempting to rob him got away without any charge.
That is only an example of what is happening on a daily basis in rural Ireland. While I welcome the fact there is an initiative in the Laois-Offaly Garda district, where the chief superintendent has charged a sergeant and eight gardaí with specifically mounting roaming checkpoints to prevent these gangs coming into rural areas, terrorising the local community and robbing from them, this is something I would like to see addressed in other parts of the country, in particular the Border region of Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Louth and Leitrim, the area I come from. I would very much welcome it if the Minister could come to the House so we can have a full discussion in regard to crime, in particular rural crime.
I want to talk about the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill that was discussed in Dáil Éireann yesterday. I welcome the Government support for it. This is a Labour Party Private Members' Bill which attempts to compel the housing authorities to recognise the needs of children and families who become homeless, which is valid. I am greatly encouraged by the response of both parties to the confidence and supply agreement that underpins this current Government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They clearly indicated yesterday in the other House that they would support this very important legislation, which has to be acknowledged. It is great to see that sort of co-operation in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Fine Gael Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, told the Dáil yesterday that the Bill was well-intentioned and that it would receive Government approval and support, which is to be welcomed. Deputy Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing, said in the Dáil yesterday that his party would be supporting the legislation, which also has to be welcomed. It is important to note that, speaking in the Dail on the Bill yesterday, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who is sponsoring the Bill and is the housing spokesperson for the Labour Party, said that when families present as homeless, they should be recognised and there should be particular reference to the needs of their children, and that the relevant housing authorities should have regard to this.
This is important. We all know there is currently no explicit recognition in law of the need of homeless families, as a family unit, or of the importance of keeping the family unit together in terms of statutory legislation, regulation and requirements. I believe this legislation, which I have read, will underpin and give status to this important issue. Hopefully, it can be fast-tracked through the Houses of the Oireachtas, given it has such broad appeal and support. I am sure other parties that I have not mentioned are committed to it as well, but those are the parties I quoted from as they were on the record during yesterday's Dáil debate.
I thank the Leader for organising and facilitating a discussion this afternoon in regard to councillors' conditions, which is welcome. It is something we have all talked about in this House and we will have an opportunity this afternoon to engage with the Minister.
I would like to share in the disappointment of many in the House at the decision by the World Rugby Council not to award Ireland the 2023 rugby world cup. I commend the efforts of the Executive in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, all political parties and, most importantly, the IRFU, led by Philip Orr and Philip Browne, for their efforts in what was a very worthy endeavour. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be and there are lots of reasons, which we are not going to go into now. However, it gives us a great opportunity to look at the sporting infrastructure of this State and the importance of sport to our society, health and mental well-being, especially of the younger generation. Therefore, in light of the fact we are expecting an imminent announcement on sports capital grants, I ask the Leader to call in the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, to discuss the context of those grants, but also to discuss a strategy for sport in Ireland and how we can get more people participating across the community, across the age groups and across the gender gap.
I want to raise the issue of the interim report regarding the Grace case. When will members be given the opportunity to receive the interim report in our hands? We have dealt with foster care issues quite comprehensively and there was the launch last week of a comprehensive report by the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs following a HIQA inspection and the finding of significant failings, including in my area of Dublin South-Central. Today, I read in the media that the Grace interim report has somehow fallen into the hands of journalists yet I, as a member of that committee, and other Members of the House have not seen it. It is like what happened with the budget in early October, when I was trying to get clarification on the overall budget for mental health for 2018 and it took a tweet to me from an NGO to clarify that. I am concerned that Members are being left behind and, somehow, somewhere, journalists or other agencies are getting the information before we are. Will the Leader let me know when this interim report will be available to Members? I want it noted that it would be nice if Members got the information prior to the wider public.
Like Senator Richmond, I share the disappointment regarding the failure of Ireland to secure the rugby world cup. Although I do not come from a rugby background, I want to put on record that our Celtic cousins in Scotland and Wales, the people who play with us on the British and Irish Lions, let us down. This was a unique opportunity for the island of Ireland, North and South, to have a world premier. I believe they let us down. Ireland only got eight votes. I want to thank England, which gave us three of those eight votes, as well as Canada and the USA. I feel it is a lost opportunity for the island of Ireland.
A few months ago I raised the distinct possibility of the island of Ireland hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Durban had withdrawn and an opportunity arose. I felt that €500 million from the UK taxpayer could come to Belfast and, as an island, we could share the facilities. I do not think that was taken seriously by some Ministers here because they had their eye on the ball of the Rugby World Cup. While I can understand that, I believe these are two lost opportunities to have a world event on the island of Ireland. Sport reconciles and unites us. We need to look much more closely at this issue.
Many of us said yesterday we wanted an all-Ireland soccer team. We have an all-Ireland rugby team. What I am trying to do, hopefully, is have an all-island hockey team competing in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia in 2018. Would it not be symbolic to have players from the island so we can cheer them on in the Commonwealth Games? I hope we will have that, although it will depend on world rankings. I hope we will have acceptance of an all-Ireland or all-island hockey team competing in the Commonwealth Games. The significance of it is that this is not a one-way street; it is a two-way street. That is the way we should think.
From one Roscommon Senator to another, I call Senator Leyden.
It is crying over spilt milk at this stage as far as the Rugby World Cup is concerned. Quite frankly, they made a bags of it. Let us call a spade a spade.
What would the Senator know? That is a ridiculous comment. Retract that.
There was an inability to negotiate. The Taoiseach was not able to negotiate.
What did you contribute? Slagging off women playing rugby. That really helped.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, was more concerned about North Korea.
It is a ridiculous point. On a point of order, Senator Leyden comes into this House and gives out about women playing rugby. Then he gets up here and tries to complain about the efforts of both Governments and all political parties. If he knew something about it, it would be one thing, but he does not know anything about it. He should stick to what he knows.
He is right.
That is not a point of order. The Senator might not agree with Senator Leyden but the Leader can respond.
He should stick to the facts.
I will tell the Senator one thing. When we were in power we could negotiate for world events.
They could negotiate bailouts. That went really well too. Stick to what you know.
I would not lose the Scottish connections. I would not lose the Scottish vote and I would not lose the Welsh vote. Where were they going? What kind of amateurs are they sending? Give me a break. They could not negotiate a piss-up in a brewery.
Send a letter to the IRFU. The Senator wants to ban women playing rugby. What else does he want to do?
The Senator is not helping Ireland.
Whether it is rugby, soccer, or football, I am not concerned. As long as it is held in Ireland I am happy.
Senator Leyden, you used an inappropriate adjective.
I will withdraw my earlier remark, a Chathaoirligh, but it explains their inability to win friends and influence people.
The Senator is still Charlie's man.
Circumstances may not allow me to appear here later today.
Rise and follow Charlie.
Timing is impeccable but in this case it is not too impeccable-----
The Senator has not changed in 40 years.
The Senator is already over time and interruptions from the Senators are only prolonging it.
The circular from Deputy Phelan of 5 November is being rejected by councils throughout the country. It is a disgrace and people are so disappointed. If the Leader of this House is facing the councils next time I am putting a warning to him now. He will be run from every council's door unless he does something about these expenses and costs. Councillors are not getting the minimum wage. They are not being paid the minimum wage. They are being used as public representatives and they are doing the work of public representatives.
The Senator is over time.
That is not being recognised. It is about time now that we recognised them and not come around with this type of circular, which is an insult. It has been written by civil servants and not by politicians. It is time the Leader rewrote these expenses proposals. They will be rejected.
I refer to the UK Supreme Court decision yesterday on minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland. The court unanimously ruled that minimum pricing could be introduced. The Scottish Whisky Association, SWA, has now accepted the decision. If we are now going to have minimum pricing in Scotland the implication of the UK Supreme Court decision is that there is a need for both Northern Ireland and this jurisdiction to also introduce minimum pricing. It is important therefore that we put through the alcohol Bill at the earliest possible date so that we can set up the structures and that it would be a co-ordinated approach about introducing minimum pricing. It is interesting that the UK Supreme Court decision yesterday was unanimous. One of reasons why it progressed this whole issue - the Scottish Parliament Bill was originally published over five years ago - was that last year over 1,265 people died as a result of the consumption of alcohol. This is something we also need to progress.
There has been a lot of debate over the past week on homelessness. It is important that we have a clear picture of the challenges that face us. Particularly as we come into the Christmas period it is important that we do not ignore that issue. It is an issue that we need to deal with and it might be appropriate to set aside some time before Christmas for a debate to set out what is the strategy between now and the next six months.
I want to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come in to the House. The Agricultural panel in the Seanad is a very important one. We do not see the Minister here often enough. I have asked him to come in on two occasions.
The first issue, one we considered yesterday, is to have a full and proper debate about the future of native breeds and how they can be sustained in the future. The second issue I want the Minister to debate with us is the commonage management plans that are being considered at the moment. These plans are unworkable because only the green low-carbon agri-environment, GLAS, applicants are included to make commonage eligible and reach stocking levels. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the National Parks and Wildlife Service need to adopt a more hands-on approach to these plans because farmers and planners should have an input from these two stakeholders about what is allowed in terms of boundary fencing, burning and temporary fencing as well. There is no point in them penalising farmers afterward when they should be pro-active in the first place in advising farmers how best to manage the hills as they are. However, they are nowhere to be seen when there needs to be a resolution for the commonage management plans.
I want to commend as well the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, on its launch in Mayo last week. I thought it was excellent. It is filling a void in terms of farming representation, particularly in regard to the more marginalised farmers. I want the Minister to address the issue of the current status of the review of areas of natural constraint, ANCs, and when we can expect the mappings and so on to be completed. The GLAS payments are due out soon and I hope we do not have the same debacle as we had last year in terms of delayed payments that have led to some farmers still not being paid. That is unacceptable at this stage for the Department to come out and use computer glitches and problems as an excuse for not paying out to farmers. It will not be accepted this year. I would appreciate if the Minister, Deputy Minister Creed, could come in here on two occasions in the next couple of weeks to address those matters.
Yesterday I wanted to support the proposal for an All-Ireland soccer team. It is a good proposal and a good idea. We should have only one international soccer team.
There is great support for sport in Ireland. Last weekend we had four international teams playing around the world, with our Gaelic footballers in Australia, the Northern Ireland soccer team in Switzerland, the Republic of Ireland soccer team in Denmark and the Irish rugby team in the Aviva stadium. All of those venues were packed out. Sport in Ireland is alive and well despite what happened to our soccer team on Tuesday night. It is a great nation for sport and the proposal for an All-Ireland soccer team is a worthy proposal and it should be looked at by both associations. I would urge them to come together and to have a look at having one association.
Almost 12 months ago I raised the issue of driverless cars. They are coming on stream at a very fast pace and at some stage in the future the Leader should look at bringing in the Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport here to see what has to be done in our major cities and roads to accommodate them. There will be many benefits. Commuters going to work in them will require some changes to traffic lights and to other infrastructure. There will be a lot of technology coming on stream. There may be fewer cars on the roads, car sharing and hopefully less crashes, less people in our accident and emergency departments, and less insurance costs. It will have many benefits. Many countries throughout the world are carrying out trials for the driverless car and it is not beyond the bounds for us as a technology leader in so many fields that we should be trialling the driverless car here as well. I ask that the Leader consider bringing in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to see what may have to be done to accommodate the driverless car.
I would like to follow on from the comments made by Senator Colm Burke in regard to the important issue of minimum unit pricing of alcohol. Many Senators very eloquently on this topic last week. I welcome the court ruling in the United Kingdom with regard to minimum unit pricing of alcohol. Essentially, it paves the way for the implementation of legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament five years ago. It also highlights and reinforces the fact that we need to follow suit as soon as possible.
I look forward to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 being brought back to the House before Christmas on Report Stage. We need to crack on and have the Bill passed.
I welcome the vote in favour of marriage equality in Australia. Some 63% of voters supported the call for equal marriage rights for LGBTQI citizens. There remains something problematic about putting the issue of human rights to a referendum, especially in Australia where the parliament had the ability to legislate for them. I hope the format adopted in Ireland of holding a referendum on the issue of marriage equality which was a necessity in our case is not one which will be adopted by other governments which just do not have the guts, vision or political will to show leadership on the issue of LGBT rights. While I am delighted and congratulate the LGBT community and people in Australia generally, this conversation has been had around the world and ideally the matter should not be put to a non-binding vote, although I expect there to be marriage equality in Australia before Christmas.
Closer to home, it is two and half years since the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was signed into law. This historic Act truly embraced the realities and diversity of families. Sections 2 and 3 of the Act which provide for parentage through donor assisted human reproduction have yet to be commenced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. Many families are running into difficulties with birth certificate and passport registration. This leaves parents vulnerable in terms of kinship rights, emergency decision-making powers and succession rights. The Minister has said it is intended to commence the sections later this year. Will he address this House and provide an update on whether the relevant sections will be commenced in 2017? Same-sex families have waited long enough to be recognised by the State.
I thank the Leader for organising the debate on the report on Airbnb and the effect it is having. He always tries to respond to requests as quickly as possible.
I refer briefly to the expert report which ranks Ireland as one of the worst when it comes to emissions. I have requested a full debate on climate change . I again call for such a debate to be organised. Could we possibly look at doing so slightly differently? We need a whole-of-government response to climate change. Three Departments are key - the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Could we have a proper debate at some stage, in particular on the effects turf and coal burning stations are having, as well as on the increasing emissions from the transport sector?
I support Senators Colm Burke and Keith Swanick on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, my views on which are well documented. Does the Leader have any idea as to when it will proceed to Report Stage?
I refer to social media and the need for legislation to deal with many of the issues that arise in that regard. They are evolving and we are behind the curve in legislating to deal with many of the issues, legal and otherwise, which arise. We have become desensitised to the activities of keyboard warriors. Common decency, courtesy and standards of respectability have to apply to the Internet. Just because we have become desensitised to the degree of vitriol and bile encountered on social media does not mean that it is acceptable. We need to deal with this issue. It is not acceptable for people to be continually referred to in a derogatory manner. Just because we are politicians and sort of deserve it we put up with it.
We do not deserve it.
We have to stand up for ourselves. The reality is that this is an issue-----
The Senator should see the abuse I have received.
Excuse me. I am trying to finish my point, although I know that the Senator is supporting me.
I am actually elaborating on the Senator's point.
It is an issue on which we must stand up and be counted. It will get completely out of control if it is not called out in some way. I apologise to the Cathaoirleach, but I have not been able to get here for a while and briefly wish to raise another point.
I attended the launch of the National Women's Council of Ireland's document, Every Woman. It is a very important one. I will not go into it for obvious reasons, but it is something on which the Leader might facilitate a debate in due course, perhaps once the Joint Committee on the Eight Amendment of the Constitution has conducted its business, because at that point everybody will be keen to air his or her views. The document is not just about the issues with which the committee is dealing, which I know that the Leader does not want to have discussed. It is for that reason that I will not go into it. I compliment the National Women's Council of Ireland, but I will park the issue, perhaps until after the committee has reported. At that point the Leader might facilitate a debate on women's health issues, including issues about which many men are afraid to hear such as breastfeeding and general women's health issues, issues which to a large extent have been brushed under the carpet for many years.
I refer to the national planning framework. Very often politicians can be accused of taking the short-term view, but the national planning framework is a 20-year strategy to drive the future development of the country and the development of the areas where people live, work, socialise and obtain State services. The closing date for the receipt of submissions was last Friday. I have no doubt that the unit within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is now going through the submissions received. Ultimately, the matter will be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas when firm proposals will be placed before us. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the medium term, before Christmas, to discuss some of the proposals made in the draft plan which focuses exclusively on five urban settlements - five cities which are all south of a line from Dublin to Galway. There is no focus on urban settlements in the midlands or north of that line. There is a need, in the north west in particular, given the difficulties associated with Brexit, to recognise a cross-Border perspective or narrative in respect of the recognition of Derry, Letterkenny, Strabane and a proposal from Donegal County Council. Ultimately, regional European development funds will be allocated based on urban settlements. If, therefore, there are no urban settlements focused on north of a line from Dublin to Galway, funding will not be focused on these areas. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the relevant Minister in the coming weeks, if possible.
I thank the 19 Members who spoke for their contributions on the Order of Business. Senators Catherine Ardagh and Diarmuid Wilson referred to the issue of crime. I commend and congratulate members of An Garda Síochána on their extraordinarily courageous work in the apprehending of individuals and the carrying out of successful drug crime operations in Ashbourne. It is wonderful that they have put so many people away and decommissioned such an amount of drugs. The work being carried out by An Garda Síochána shows that Operation Thor has been a success. I agree with Senator Catherine Ardagh that there is obviously a need for a greater police presence on the ground. As she knows quite well, the Garda College in Templemore, the closure of which was supported by Senator Terry Leyden, was reopened by the previous Government.
Not again. The Leader is obsessed with the Garda College in Templemore.
We have seen an increase in the recruitment of new gardaí. I am sure the Senator will agree with me that it is good news for rural Ireland.
I wish to remind Senator Leyden of a point he raised last week. CCTV cameras are already being used on our motorways and high streets. They play a key role in combating crime.
The establishment of the independent Policing Authority by Government will allow for the commission to look at how resources are distributed and spent. As Senators know well, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for operational matters. It is important that all of us unite as communities to combat crime. The recruitment of more gardaí and the allocation of extra gardaí for community policing is important and will play a role in this regard. The issue around community alert and community involvement is equally important. If people have information, it should come to the fore in the combating of crime. I serve on two policing fora in the city and county of Cork. The work An Garda Síochána is doing is to be commended. The Senator is right in that regard.
Reference was made to the increase in murders. This loss of life is tragic, for a variety of reasons. No one can condone the increase in murders. The point Senator Ardagh made is that we need to see everyone playing a role in combating the horrific murders that are taking place for a variety of reasons. Some relate to gangland crime but others are not related.
The reason I interjected when Senator Craughwell spoke was to be helpful. Senator McFadden has been involved with the Department of Defence and has made representations. I am keen for this to be a celebration of the heroes of the men of Jadotville. I know from talking to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and the people in his Department that they are fully aware of the concerns expressed by Senator Craughwell. It is important that the House, through Senator Craughwell making the information available, communicates and engages constructively with the Department. I hope the Senator will do that.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the tragic issue of the search and rescue operation in Galway this morning. I hope that we have a positive and successful outcome to that search and rescue situation. It is a harrowing time for family members. Again, it illustrates the extraordinary work and commitment of people who go out in difficult situations on behalf of all of us. I wish to express my hope that there will be a successful outcome to the search and rescue mission. I praise the men and women who are involved in the matter raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
I wish to make a point on mental health. It is important to note that there has been recruitment in the mental health area. The budget for mental health now stands at €853.1 million, a significant increase since 2012. Some €140 million has been added to the mental health budget. I do not have the specific details regarding the issue of the west to which the Senator referred, but recruitment has taken place in the mental health area. From talking to the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Jim Daly, I know that the creation of an all-party committee is something on which we are keen to see further progress. If the Senator wishes to give me the details of the matters he addressed this morning, I would be happy to pass them on to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Humphreys raised related issues connected to the provision of a drilling licence by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, as well as the issue of climate change, raised in particular by Senator Humphreys. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to address Senator O'Sullivan's position. I am not familiar with the issues. However, with regard to the remarks made by Senator Humphreys on climate change, I am happy to work with him to allow the planned national mitigation statements to evolve. If Senator Humphreys wants tweaks or changes, we can arrange it. There are plans to have statements in the coming weeks. The point Senator Humphreys made is important. I am happy to work with all Members to continue to prioritise climate change.
The issue we have is that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is committed to the national mitigation plan, which was published in July last year. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will appear before the House in the coming weeks as part of the agreement in that regard.
Senators Lombard and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of school transport. It is actually extraordinary. I have made enquiries since. I have been a teacher. No one knows where these students will be in April or May of a leaving certificate year. It is extraordinary to come back and claim the position stands because the deadline has passed. It is a small cohort of people. Senators Lombard and Conway-Walsh are correct to raise the matter. What has been done is mind-boggling. Perhaps Senators Lombard and Conway-Walsh could table a joint Commencement matter as a matter of urgency, because we have a full couple of weeks with legislation. I have no wish to mislead the House, but I think that might be a better way of getting an answer. I have already raised the matter with the Department on their behalf and I will do so again this morning.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of housing and the homeless. It is important that we are solutions focused and that we work together as politicians to tackle the issues of homelessness and the housing crisis. It is about ensuring that people, citizens of the Republic, are housed in a proper, decent and respectful way and that their needs are met. I assure the House that the Government is absolutely prioritising the matter. This is about treating people with respect and dignity. It is about understanding the needs of people who are homeless and have different needs. People are homeless for a variety of reasons. It is about ensuring that these people of the Republic are treated with respect and dignity.
We have a cross-party committee on housing. Senator Boyhan rightly raised the issue of the Oireachtas committee. I hope all of us can work together to solve this issue. This is not about playing politics. It is about working together to prioritise the problem. The Government has prioritised it through Rebuilding Ireland. That is why we have allocated €6 billion with an evolving budget and multi-annual funding. It is not that the Government is unaware or living in an ivory tower; the opposite is the case. I welcome the remarks of Senator Boyhan about the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
Senator Boyhan and Senator Leyden referred to the issue of councillors' pay and conditions. This afternoon we will have a debate on the matter. Some councillors are unhappy at the decision and the amount of money allocated in terms of an increase in their salary. I hope all of us can continue to work on their behalf. It is not about making glib statements in the House to try to get a headline or to be seen to get a vote. It is about all of us working to prioritise the work of our councillors who are doing extraordinary work. I have made the point this week that I would much prefer to see local authority members be made full-time and be given a proper salary, thereby ending all the anomalies in the system. I would love to see that happen. Perhaps it might not happen in the short term but it is something we should work towards.
Senators Richmond, Feighan, Leyden and Burke raised the issues of the Rugby World Cup, the all-Ireland soccer team and the all-Ireland hockey team. I wish to join Senator Richmond in commending all involved in the Irish bid for the Rugby World Cup. It was an extraordinary presentation.
It was an extraordinary failure.
You have made your point, Senator. Let the Leader respond.
I welcome Senator Leyden's new-found interest in sport. This Member did not want women playing rugby and had to retract his statement in that regard. I welcome his new-found interest in sport and I wish him well. All those of us who are sportspeople will educate Senator Leyden on the different rules of the game. We would be happy to bring him to any game he wishes to see.
It was an excellent cross-party all-Ireland approach.
It was about bringing an organisation to Ireland and bringing a major event to Ireland.
The Leader might get a ticket for him for the Ireland-Fiji game.
Was Senator Leyden at the women's Rugby World Cup in August? I did not see him there. Has he ever been to a rugby match? Has he ever been to a women's match?
Allow the Leader to respond.
I will take him whenever he wants.
Allow the Leader to respond. Do not drop the ball, Senator.
I will try not to play the ball forward. We are all disappointed at the bid. It was not for the want of trying by the sporting organisations, the Government and communities and sporting bodies North and South. It is disappointing. We should look at World Rugby's critique of how it awards the Rugby World Cup. Perhaps that should be questioned rather than Ireland's bid in terms of the type of country preferred, the amount of money available and the stadiums.
The all-Ireland soccer team is a matter for the Irish Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland. Obviously, we are disappointed. It is a perennial chestnut that comes up when one of us does not do well but the other does well.
That is sport, a Chathoairligh, as you know. You played yourself, and you are a fine sportsman. You win some, you lose some. It is better to have tried than not to have tried at all. I refer to the aspiration and the ambition we have. Senator Richmond has brought up the need to have a debate on not just infrastructure, but on sport in general. It binds us as a nation. It unites us, but it also divides us, as we saw this morning with the flippant, populist nonsense we heard from Senator Leyden. I will not dwell on the issue of the all-Ireland hockey team and the Commonwealth Games but the all-Ireland hockey team-----
I played for a Connacht vocational school, very successfully by the way.
I would say it was indebted to the Senator.
Very successfully. Thank you.
There is no doubt that Senator Leyden will be-----
-----waving letters on the sports capital programme which Senator Hopkins and Senator Feighan have delivered in Roscommon. That is probably what he will be trying to do next, but that is all right.
They are not doing too well so far.
Senator Devine raised the issue of the interim Grace report. Like Senator Devine, the first I read about it was this morning-----
I always thought the sports capital grants were independently assessed. I did not realise different Senators deliver for different counties.
As the Senator knows quite well, we all receive representations. He received them when he was in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. One gets representations, as he knows, and one does one's best for the people who ask.
That is not the case when there is an independent assessment.
That is why there is one. What I am saying-----
Why is Senator Buttimer saying that particular Senator deliver for different counties?
Senator Humphreys has misinterpreted what I said.
Is the Senator saying-----
What I said was-----
Senator Buttimer should listen to what he said.
I was congratulating them on their success. That is what I was saying.
Senators should speak through the Chair.
As Senator Humphreys knows quite well, when he was in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, he was not immune from representations, and he was very open to meeting with delegations as a Minister of State. Every Minister is open to meeting delegations. All of us live in and work in communities, and we recognise the importance of the sports capital programme.
I will go back to the interim Grace report. I have not seen the report which the sole member of the commission has, according to the newspaper reports, presented to Minister for Health and the Minister of State, Deputies Simon Harris and Finian McGrath. I am not aware of what the next steps are. However, I accept that it is disappointing to read about it in the newspapers. That should not happen. Information is only leaked by people who give it out, and I would be very confident that the eminent commission chairperson did not leak it. I am sure the Ministers did not do so either, so I am not sure how it got out. This poses another question about leaking, and shows that we should all be very careful of the material we have so that we do not inadvertently give it away to people who should not have access to it. That is important.
Senators Colm Burke, Swanick and Noone raised the issue of minimum unit pricing. We all welcome the decision by the Supreme Court yesterday on minimum unit pricing. In tandem with the North, we should introduce minimum unit pricing. That is the next step. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is due back in the coming weeks. I do not have a timetable for it yet, but I will endeavour to facilitate its passage through the House, with its co-operation, prior to Christmas. That is the intent of the Government following Committee Stage.
Senator Colm Burke also referenced the issue of housing. It is important that we have that debate again in the House. In response to a query from Senator Conway-Walsh, I am afraid that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, is away this week on a trade mission, but I would be very happy to have the issues the Senator discussed debated in the House in the coming weeks. That request will be put to the Minister.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of driverless cars. This is an important issue that, as he said, will become part of our lives. I would be happy to have that debate, and to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to the House.
In response to Senator Warfield-----
Leave them at home.
Senator Warfield was missing yesterday. To be fair to him, he could not be here. I join him again in congratulating the people of Australia. I agree with him that it should not have had to be done through a non-binding vote. He is 100% correct. There should have been enough political leadership to pass a Bill to allow everybody to get married. Again, I pay tribute to Tiernan Brady, who spearheaded the campaign. It is wonderful to have an Irish person in Australia leading a campaign-----
He is a good Fianna Fáil man.
He was probably the only Fianna Fáil man who campaigned for marriage equality here. However, it was wonderful, and I think what Senator Warfield is indirectly saying, which we should also put on the record, is that the political landscape of the world is changing, but there are many parts of the world where change is not happening, where there is regression on the rights of LGBT citizens. It seems that western democracies have to take up this cause, because we have the leadership and we have courage. It is important that we continue that work.
In response to the question on the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, I do not have that information, but I would be happy to revert on that. I know it is an issue that is vexing people, and I have forwarded a request to the Department of Justice and Equality previously. It is something that is coming up a bit.
I have raised the issues that Senator Humphreys mentioned around climate change. Senator Noone raised the issue of social media and the need for temperance and moderation in views and expressions on social media. I am sure that everybody who is a politician has at some point in time been subjected to horrible vilification and vitriol. The Senator is right that there is a need for some type of curb in this evolving medium. I will be happy to have that debate in the House. Apart from the issue of cybersecurity, we need to look at security around social media, concerning what people can and can not say.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised a very important point about the national planning framework. I would be very happy to have a debate on the future of Ireland in the context of the debate on the national planning framework. I will try to have that before Christmas. I thank the Members for their contributions.