The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled "Report on Positive Mental Health in Schools" to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled "Report on the eligibility of maintenance grants to students - Wake-up SUSI" to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government entitled "The Impact of Short Term Lettings on Ireland's Housing and Rental Market" to be taken on conclusion of No. 2 without debate; No. 3a, motion regarding the proposed authorisation by Seanad Éireann for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to instruct legal representatives to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 without debate; No. 4, Finance Bill 2017 - Second Stage to be taken at 4.45 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 5, Domestic Violence Bill 2017 – Committee Stage (resumed) to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4.
Order of Business
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, we are very sorry to hear that Senator Denis Landy has resigned. He served as a public representative since 1988 and served as a Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Town Council on two occasions. He was elected to Seanad Éireann in 2011. I would like to thank him, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, for his many years of public service and wish him all the best for the future.
What we have seen in the past few hours was an element of accountability which was very much lacking in the past few weeks. I do not intend to rehash events, but we saw parliamentary questions go unanswered, selective amnesia and a failure to comply with discovery requests by a dysfunctional Department of Justice and Equality. The fact that further documents were uncovered by the Taoiseach at the weekend demonstrates further the inadequacies in the Department of Justice and Equality. I was glad to hear that the Taoiseach has directed that an external inquiry into the failure to discover adequately to the Charleton tribunal those emails he found over the weekend be established. I ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach when this will be set up and who he intends to appoint as an independent external investigator.
It all begs the question of what other documents, memos, letters, etc., have not been handed over to the tribunal. Have any of these documents been destroyed? The Taoiseach also recommended the full implementation of the Toland report. I ask the Leader to ask the Taoiseach for more detail on when this will commence. Time is of the essence, as the Department of Justice and Equality is one of the central pillars of our justice system and democracy. The Taoiseach also indicated that he will examine the relationship between the Department and An Garda Síochána.
He also outlined that replies to parliamentary questions in respect of this matter will be reviewed to ensure that answers are complete. Ultimately, it is important that there are no more secrets in the Department of Justice and Equality or any other Department. The concept of parliamentary accountability needs to be upheld, something the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated.
The upside to having avoided an election is that our negotiating team at the European Council summit will have ample time to put into its preparation strategy. The Government and Fianna Fáil are ad idem in regard to the strategy for Ireland which is, ultimately, that we should not have a hard border. We know a disorderly hard border will be disastrous for Ireland. In a recent survey, the British Irish Chamber of Commerce reported that 53% of Irish firms believe Brexit presents a greater threat than opportunity to their firm. In comparison, 28% of respondents believed Brexit presents a greater opportunity. Our small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. They must be listened to and their concerns taken into account during the summit.
We must take the time to prepare properly for these important discussions. I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, to address the House on the preparations he has made to date in respect of all eventualities. To quote his fellow Cork man - not Deputy Micheál Martin - "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail."
I would like to send my good wishes to Senator Denis Landy. I am sorry to hear he has resigned. He was an exceptionally hardworking Senator, and a good county councillor and representative of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, for many years. He advocated strongly for city, county and local councillors in terms of their remuneration, conditions of employment and developing policy, education and training on an ongoing basis. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues in Tipperary, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and LAMA, with which he worked very hard.
He was an exceptionally hard worker and will be missed. He was tremendously proud on his first day. I met him the day he was first elected to Seanad Éireann and he was particularly pleased. We had a healthy rivalry in the last election because I was also on the agricultural panel. He will be missed on a number of fronts and I want to wish him well in whatever he decides to do in the future.
I renew my request that the Taoiseach be invited to come to Seanad Éireann at some point, this side of Christmas if possible or in the new year. It would be an important step for the House and the Taoiseach to have some sort of engagement. It is to be hoped the Leader will take that up.
I again ask for the Minister responsible for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to come before the House at some stage. There seems to be some conflict between who will ultimately fund the commitments following from the convention, in terms of the Departments of Finance or Health. This seems to be a stumbling block. At the end of the day, it is Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance which are in government. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has responsibility for disabilities.
There is a commitment in the programme for Government to deliver on this and it is important that we keep the pressure on and ask people in government to explain what is happening. I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange for a briefing on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with a view to signing the convention as soon as possible.
I wish to pay tribute to Senator Landy. Apart from anything else, he was an absolute gentleman any time he worked with any of us in here. He is a great trade unionist and a great socialist. He represents the very best values of people on the left and I wish him and his family well for the future, while acknowledging that he will be a huge loss to this Chamber.
I request that an amendment be made to the Order of Business and ask that the Taoiseach come in to the House today to make a statement about the resignation of the Tánaiste and other related matters. It has been a fairly momentous week. I must declare a personal interest. I went to school with Maurice McCabe. I was very good friends with his younger brother. I know what a fine, upstanding family they have always been. There was a horrendous conspiracy against Sergeant McCabe on behalf of the State, and unfortunately we now know, because of the information that has been released over the last number of days, that when the Tánaiste found out about the attempt to blacken and smear his good name, she chose to turn a blind eye to that. It is unforgivable. This is not about anything in a personal sense; it simply is about political accountability. That is why Sinn Féin put down the motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste. We have no doubt but that had that motion not been put down, she would still be in place today. We did the right thing and we will always do the right thing. Our job is to challenge the Government when we see wrongdoing and the decision by the Tánaiste to basically turn a blind eye to what was happening to Sergeant McCabe and the horrendous attempt to smear his good name is simply unforgivable.
The Leader had to take one for the team this morning. He appeared on "Morning Ireland" to defend the indefensible. I almost felt sorry for him, to be frank.
Do not worry about the Leader.
I have nothing to be ashamed of, unlike the legacy of the Senator's party.
Senator Buttimer's party has a legacy too.
It is a matter of disappointment that not one Fine Gael Senator had the integrity to stand up over the weekend. Not one of them stood up to say what everyone else knew, which was that the Tánaiste had to go. Instead the Leader, as recently as this morning, was defending the indefensible. There are further questions to be answered, and that is why I want the Taoiseach to come in here. I cannot understand how, when he received that documentation on Friday or Saturday, he waited until Monday evening to act and almost plunged our country into a general election before Christmas. I cannot understand that. The Minister for Justice and Equality has important questions to answer. We know that he sat beside the Taoiseach when the latter was unintentionally misleading the House. It is not good enough. The fact of the matter is that unfortunately, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil tried to circle the wagons on this matter for a few days. I believe that no one in either party has the confidence to deal with the corruption at the heart of the Department of Justice and Equality. I am asking for the Taoiseach to come in and deal with this matter.
I would like to extend my best wishes to former Senator Landy, who tendered his resignation today. Denis was a great support to me when I became an elected Member of Seanad Éireann.
I will speak briefly on the resignation of the former Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the latest political crisis that has threatened the stability of the country at a crucial time as we head into Brexit negotiations and as we work to pass the budget. There was the threat of an election over a complex issue that few have been able to follow in all its detail. There were public meetings and canvassing in Waterford this week and last, and the message clearly was that this had to be sorted out and an election avoided. I am glad to see the threat of an election receding but we need to ensure that this does not end in resignations alone.
Resignations do not resolve issues, rather root-and-branch reform of systems is what is required. This is why the Green Party tried to amend the terms of reference of the inquiry earlier this year to include the Department of Justice and Equality in the remit. All sides now need to work together to ensure that the full truth emerges at the inquiry in the new year and that the resolution of these issues will follow from its findings, including real changes to the way the Department handles such cases and information into the future.
The reason we need to get back to the work we were elected to do here is that people want action on local and national issues that affect their everyday lives. In Waterford, there are particular issues that are constraining the immense potential of the city and the metropolitan area. At recent events in the city highlighting digital creativity, community voluntary activity, regional development and educational opportunities, the intelligence, skills, eagerness and potential energy of the people of Waterford city and county were always evident. I would like to ask the Leader when the Government will be delivering the funds that are promised to the North Quays Strategic Development Zone in Waterford city. With the public consultation closing this week and a city transport development plan under discussion that will reshape the face of the city, it is crucial that Waterford city's position as the capital of the south east is locked down in the developing national planning framework and the capital investment plan. Greater certainty around the provision of emergency medical care in the region is crucial for the continued development of the city and county, and this is something I expect the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, will be addressing shortly as part of a national review of services.
Of particular and immediate concern is the nature of emergency medical transport for the region, as well as the provision of out-of-hours cardiac and mental health care. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation recently met in Waterford city. The committee heard from experts in the region about these issues and the crucial need for a technological university for the south east region that could go so far to unlock its potential. I am eager to debate this in more detail, and I hope we have the opportunity to do so in the House soon.
I am sure you will. I call on Senator Bacik.
On behalf of the Labour Party Senators I would like to pay tribute to our colleague Denis Landy, who has tendered his resignation today due to ill-health. We in the Labour group were all very sorry to hear of this resignation. I want to pay tribute to him, and to thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and all our colleagues from the other groups, who have spoken so warmly and kindly about Denis's time here, and have paid such nice tributes to him. Clearly, as someone who served with him in the Seanad since 2011, I am well aware of all of the work he has done, of his long career in local government, the pride he took in local government, the huge amount of energy and effort he put into maintaining close connections with councillors and the huge work he did on their behalf. Senator Boyhan has spoken very strongly about that. I pay tribute to his work through the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, his work as a trade union representative, which I thank my colleagues for remembering, and the strong advocacy in which he engaged for those involved in local government. I know that Dennis will continue to remain active in the Labour Party, and I am glad he will. On behalf of the Labour group, I wish him and his family very well in the future and say again how sorry we are that he has decided to resign.
I also pay tribute to the former Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for her work, in particular the huge amount of work she did on pioneering legislation around sex offences and domestic violence. Committee Stage of the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 will be taken tonight in the Seanad. She was a strong champion for equality, for women's rights in particular, and it was good to work with her. Having said that, her position had become untenable. As the Labour Party leader Deputy Brendan Howlin said yesterday, it became untenable for her to continue, given the revelations that had come out.
I also note the role of Deputy Alan Kelly in pursuing the truth through parliamentary questions, getting only obstructionism and a drip-feed of answers from the Department of Justice and Equality. If the Department had been more open and the answers had been forthcoming, we would never have had the unedifying spectacle we have had in recent days, of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin seeking truth through other means and raising the spectre of a general election which nobody wanted. The Labour Party played the role of an honest broker in this. Deputy Kelly's questions, pursued through the parliamentary procedural route, should have brought forward the answers that we are still only getting now. As Deputy Kelly has pointed out, there are still questions to be asked, particularly of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, and we look forward to getting the answers to those over the coming days.
It is vital that we get them expeditiously and see true reform of the Department of Justice and Equality. Under a previous Labour Party coalition Government, that Department was split into equality and law reform on the one hand and justice on the other. We should see similar far-reaching reform now on foot of these revelations. We will support the Sinn Féin call to invite the Taoiseach in here on that ground. We will also ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality come here in the coming days to answer the questions that Deputy Kelly raised in the Dáil.
I too want to be associated with the kind and good wishes to our former colleague, Denis Landy, who I am very sorry to hear has submitted his resignation from Seanad Éireann. Denis, who lives quite close to me on the other side of the Tipperary-Waterford border, was a stalwart Labour Party public representative and trade unionist. I wish him, his family and his Labour Party colleagues the very best because he is a huge loss to national politics. He was always a champion for local politics at national level through his first role as a leader of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, and since he entered Seanad Éireann in 2011. He always made councillors and local authority policies and issues a very high priority. I sincerely wish him well.
On recent controversies and the resignation of the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, I too acknowledge the Trojan work that Deputy Fitzgerald did when she became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. She set up many of the institutions of the State that are now responsible for the protection of children. She introduced legislation that will ensure many generations of children in the future will be protected. She led the way in much of that groundbreaking legislation. We now understand that, since the Taoiseach ordered the trawl of documents in the Department of Justice and Equality, further information and documents have been disclosed. The Charleton tribunal is charged with examining all of this in fine detail. I believe, however, that the Department of Justice and Equality needs to be turned inside out in respect of the way it conducts its dealings because it is obvious that Sergeant Maurice McCabe has been the victim at many levels, not only within An Garda Síochána but also of collusion within the State and the Department of Justice and Equality. I am annoyed about that, as are colleagues of mine. I believe fundamentally, however, that the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, will be vindicated when the Charleton tribunal has the opportunity to examine, according to due process and natural justice, the fine detail, the evidence, facts and truth behind much of this.
While I acknowledge the right of any Member of Parliament to raise issues of concern regarding public accountability I will take no lectures from Sinn Féin and find it ironic for Sinn Féin to lecture my party and indeed a person of the fine standing of the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, when that party turned a blind eye to sexual abuse, to the families of the disappeared, to bullying within politics and still turns a blind eye to bullying within politics.
That is not true.
The Charleton tribunal will be the proper forum and will not act as judge and jury in the way Sinn Féin does and has done-----
Senator Coffey is always attacking Sinn Féin.
-----in supporting its IRA colleagues in kangaroo courts that we all know about.
If the Senator knows about it he should report it.
Deputy Fitzgerald is a fine parliamentarian and I hope to see the day when she will be vindicated.
That is enough of the Blueshirts.
Sexual abuse and bullying. The party turned a blind eye to it. Máiría Cahill.
Like my colleagues I was saddened to hear of the unexpected retirement of our colleague, the former Senator, Denis Landy. He has been involved in Labour Party politics since he was a very young man. He followed in the footsteps of his uncle Michael Kavanagh, who was a founder member of the Labour Party. For more than 23 years, he served as a town councillor and a county councillor. In 2011 he was elected on the Administrative Panel with me to the Seanad and was re-elected in 2016. I wish him and his family well in his retirement. I know there will be another day to discuss his legacy.
I also join in sending our condolences to the people of Georgia and the residents of the resort city of Batumi where 11 young people were killed and a further 19 were injured yesterday in a fire. The town is twinned with County Cork and there are both political and business links to the region. Having visited Georgia recently I can attest to what a beautiful country it is and what beautiful people they are. Georgia is a vibrant democracy. It is ironic at a time when we are discussing Brexit in this country and our neighbours in the United Kingdom are anxious to get out of Europe that those people see the value of democracy and are trying their very best to join the European Union. We should give them every support we can in that regard. I pay tribute to the Georgian Embassy in Dublin which is a very active mission and in particular to the ambassador, George Zurabashvili.
I wish to be associated with the words Senator Boyhan spoke on behalf of our group in respect of Senator Landy. As one of the radicals in this House I say there should be more of us.
On the way to the House this morning I was listening to my car radio and wondering about current political events when an ad break took place. I do not know how many other Members heard the particular advertisement but it announced that there was good news for the self employed and that from now on they would be entitled to certain social welfare benefits, to which they were previously not entitled. I suppose that is good news. The announcement then said, "This is a Government of Ireland initiative sponsored by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection". The advertisement finished with the statement that the hope is that the self employed will not have to make use of the measure, which is a fairly obvious thing to say. I asked myself about this "Government of Ireland imitative" being used as a logo on State announcements. It immediately became apparent to me that it is the strategic communications unit which is now going to stamp every State advertisement, in particular at politically sensitive times, that the good news is a Government of Ireland initiative. That is what the €5 million is being spent on.
Another slush fund for the boys.
This is blatant political propaganda.
Senator McDowell was good at spending it when he was in the Department of Justice and Equality.
For many years there has been a set of conventions on departmental advertising, that they are not used for political purposes, that they do not glorify individual Ministers and that they are factual and non-propagandistic. The advertisement breached every one of those principles. It should be withdrawn from RTÉ. It is a breach of the Government's duty not to spend taxpayers' money on political propaganda. The phrase "Government of Ireland initiative" and the reference to the sponsoring Department is clearly a new departure which should be roundly condemned. The €5 million that has been wasted on this so-called unit should be spent on something else. There are many other candidates for that expenditure.
I second Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business. I will take no lectures from Senator Coffey. He says the same thing day in and day out.
I will not let Sinn Féin forget.
He is more disgruntled than usual. I suggest that Fine Gael Senators did not wish to get out of the bed this morning because of the news, and perhaps that has been the case for the past week. Perhaps Senator Coffey should just go back to bed because his disgruntlement is a bit unnecessary.
Is that the best Senator Devine can do? The spin machine is not working in west Belfast.
Senators should not be examining each other across the floor. They should speak through the Chair.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn is winding up there. He is getting ready.
The Leader will have ample time to respond.
I always like a fight with the Blueshirts.
Perhaps they need a bit more of a rest given the rattling they had over the past week.
I wish to raise the issue of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. There has been an increase, not a decrease, of 3.5% according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is having a grave effect on public health. Fifty years of progression in public health and disease elimination is threatened as a result of these emissions and the pollution of our planet. Seven per cent of expenditure worldwide is on health and this is increasing rapidly because of pollution. Our future will be worse instead of better. Not only will we miss the 2020 targets but we are also on the path to miss the targets for 2030 and 2050. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to the House to discuss the plans and our adherence to international law?
I join everyone in commending Senator Denis Landy on his work to date at local government level and in the Seanad. I wish him and his family well in the future.
I wish to raise an issue I became aware of last night concerning a women's refuge. I was going to raise it today when debating the Domestic Violence Bill but I feel this is not appropriate because we will be discussing amendments. The issue probably does not fit in with that debate. The matter is related, however. A women's refuge in Tallaght was approximately seven months into the process of purchasing a house in Rathcoole. South Dublin County Council had pledged €500,000 for the purchase of the house. Seven months into the sale process, it withdrew the €500,000 because of some sort of refurbishment fee that would be needed. The council directed the refuge to the capital assistance scheme. Perhaps the Leader can advise me what Department this falls under. It could be the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
At a time when we are discussing legislation on domestic violence, we now have only ten refuge beds available for women. The facility in Rathmines has been closed for the past two months. In the next few weeks, Saoirse refuge will possibly lose the house in question. It would have afforded 17 women refuge over the coming months. I would like the Leader to examine whether there is a way of prioritising an application under the capital assistance scheme or of approaching the local authority to ask it why it has withdrawn the €500,000. This is to ensure the refuge will not lose the important house in Rathcoole. Having services and resources on the ground is very important if we are to introduce legislation and implement change.
I, too, pay tribute to my colleague and, more important, my friend, Senator Denis Landy, who has announced today his unexpected retirement from this House. Denis has made a huge contribution to local and national politics and to Labour Party politics in Tipperary, across Munster and across Ireland over almost 30 years in elected office of one description or another. As Senator Gavan said, Denis was a very proud socialist. His socialism was of a practical variety. He did what he said. He believed in what he was doing and he believed what he was doing was right. He was and is a solid trade unionist and somebody with an enormous track record of delivery in his community and across the country. I do not believe there is a former or current county councillor in this country who does not know Denis Landy personally. Denis has always provided any excellent service to city and county councils across this country. Indeed, he was a very proud town councillor representing Carrick-on-Suir for many years. He was a very proud advocate of town councils and what they can achieve. He would be very amused by the remarks of Senator Michael McDowell. Senator McDowell referred to himself and to Denis as radicals in the same breath. It may be fair to say they are on different ends of the political spectrum, but radicals nonetheless. I do accept that Senator McDowell is, indeed, a radical, but one with whom I may not always agree.
I do agree, however, with Senator McDowell's reference to what I would describe as the misuse of State funds to promote political ends.
I almost crashed my socialist-issue Skoda when I heard those advertisements which give the impression that the State is awarding some kind of gift to the self-employed in the form of the benefits they would receive and to which they are entitled through the payment of a PRSI stamp. It is not radical for self-employed people to be provided with these benefits. It is a welcome and necessary step that I welcome.
It would be remiss of me not to reflect on the resignation of the Tánaiste. I take no satisfaction whatsoever in the decision the Tánaiste had made and I mean that sincerely. I served with Deputy Fitzgerald at Cabinet level and we all know that she has many fine qualities. We and the entire country knew that by 7 p.m. last night, only one option was available to the Tánaiste but unfortunately it took some time for the Tánaiste and Taoiseach to accept the inevitability of what was happening. My colleague, Senator Bacik, made the point articulately earlier that we need not have been in the middle of a political crisis over the past few days, had the answers to the questions tabled by my colleague, Deputy Kelly, in the normal course of parliamentary accountability, transparency and democracy, been addressed. Quite the opposite happened. Those questions were thwarted, he was denied the truth and he continues to be denied the truth. Answers were delayed and obfuscation was the order of the day. When the Minister for Justice and Equality addresses the Dáil later, which I am told he intends to do, the first thing he should do is apologise directly to my colleague, Deputy Kelly.
I too would like to be associated with the remarks in respect of Denis Landy. I wish him good health and happiness to himself and his family, whatever he chooses to do from here on.
I raise the issue of road safety. In 2016, 188 people lost their lives on Irish roads. We can all imagine the pain and suffering those families are going through. One interesting statistic is that for every road death, eight people are left with serious, life-changing injuries. Another statistic worth noting is that in 2015, 166 people lost their lives and, of that figure, 45 were between the age of 16 and 25, and 130 were male. With that in mind, I compliment the gardaí in the Cavan-Monaghan division on an initiative undertaken by Sergeant Tony Campbell who, for the third or fourth year running, has organised an event for all transition year students in County Monaghan. The same project is also being rolled out in County Cavan. I attended the event yesterday and more than 400 transition year students were present. Some had already commenced driving and some were about to start. It is basically a road safety roadshow and an appeal to young drivers to slow down and be conscious of the rules of the road. The initiative involved young people being presented with the reality of what happens from the moment a crash occurs until the road is cleared. It was attended by the local safety officer of Monaghan County Council, local gardaí, a paramedic, a consultant from the emergency department in Cavan General Hospital, an undertaker, a coroner and a mother who lost her child and who gave testimony. It was a striking presentation and was very worthwhile. From speaking to some of the students, it left a lasting impression.
I bring this up today because I ask the Leader to mention this project to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is a template that could be rolled out throughout the country and which would be beneficial to all young people who have just commenced driving or are about to commence driving.
I too wish to be associated with the comments of goodwill expressed to Denis Landy on the occasion of his retirement from Seanad Éireann.
Denis was a gentleman and an excellent contributor across a wide range of topics over his two terms in the Seanad. I wish him and his family well. It was a big decision for him to make and no doubt he will leave, through his contributions, a lasting imprint in the House for years to come.
My colleague, Senator McDowell, mentioned the Government information unit that is based in the Department of An Taoiseach. The €5 million spending there is additional to the €170 million already spent by the Government and State agencies in promoting Government services. That is €175 million being spent this year on the promotion of Government services. There are serious questions about the public good and where that crosses over into political promotion, and some recent communications have been in the realm of the latter. That is wrong and something that should be corrected. This is happening at a time when answers to parliamentary questions in the other House have not been forthcoming and the information that has been sought and which should have been provided has been withheld. We are spending all this money on promoting information to the public, but a Department at the heart of a scandal has been withholding relevant, factual information from a Member of the other House and his fellow Deputies. It is scandalous. We have to get real and I hope that the Government will take this as a rude awakening to get its act in order because what has happened in recent weeks cannot be allowed to happen again.
I also wish to express my regret at the news of the resignation of our friend, Senator Denis Landy. He represented all the best traditions of the Labour Party. His priority was always the underdog, the working man. He was an outstanding public representative at local authority level for many years. He and I go back a long way. We were on the executive of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland together for many years. He was a great facilitator and a man who knew how to work within the system and get results. I regard him not only as a colleague but as a personal friend. He will be missed from this House and I wish him good health in the future.
I am also personally saddened on the resignation of the Tánaiste. It was inevitable as facts unfolded, but it is not a day for triumphalism and it is no joy to anyone in either House that this happened. I cannot say I am surprised but I am disappointed at Senator Gavan taking the opportunity to have his usual swipe at my party. I would remind him that it was the stance of my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, that brought these emails into the public domain. I congratulate him and the Taoiseach on their efforts over the past four or five days to reintroduce stability to public affairs. It is very easy for Sinn Féin to table motions of no confidence-----
There is the Senator's usual swipe at us.
-----in any member of the Government any day they like-----
Fianna Fáil is in the Government.
-----and let it do so. This has proved once again how irrelevant Sinn Féin is. When this Government was being formed, Deputy Gerry Adams spent about four weeks at the pictures. He was texting the films he was watching at night on Netflix.
The Senator is one of his followers.
It was a nightmare for Sinn Féin.
He was not tweeting about seagulls.
Has the Senator got him on Snapchat too?
May I continue? It is the usual gallery of Sinn Féin.
I will allow the Senator another ten seconds. Please continue.
The Sinn Féin Members like to give it out but they cannot take it. They were not there for a formation of a Government when it was needed. It brought down a Government in the North and it is irrelevant down here. I hope that the-----
What the Senator said last week is on the record of the House.
-----confidence and supply arrangement-----
Happy together again.
-----which was underpinned by last resort meetings between the two leaders, will continue in order that we can have some kind of stability at a time when it was never more needed. God help us if we ever see Sinn Féin getting a leg into government. It will bring down the whole shooting gallery in one day.
Sinn Féin and seagulls must be stopped.
I thank Senator Ned O'Sullivan for that enlightenment. I call Senator Ó Donnghaile.
Here we go.
"Here we go" is right.
Unlike the Leader's good self, I will resist the urge and discuss matters much more significant than those the previous speaker discussed.
As the Leader will know, the cities of Belfast and Derry voted to remain within the EU. In recent months, both of their councils have been working on a comprehensive, impressive and, when one considers the potential economic benefit, important joint bid to be named the EU cities of culture in 2023, a year that is significant for marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The bid, which is a considerable piece of work with a number of high-level endorsements and a significant budget, was put together by members of both councils. Unfortunately, it has transpired that the European Commission will not recognise bids from what it deems to be UK cities after 2019 and the fallout of Brexit.
Here is another tangible disaster, another negative impact of taking the North out of the EU against its will. We are all aware of the negatives. We have rehearsed them in this Chamber and elsewhere for legitimate, genuine and understandable reasons.
The Irish Government, which has been playing an important role in Brexit over recent weeks in particular, has a role to play in championing and supporting the bid from Belfast and Derry cities in the same way that it would for Galway, Dublin or Cork. This is a major opportunity, not least when one considers the cross-Border impact within the context of Derry city and Strabane district.
Through the Leader, I call on the Irish Government, in particular the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to engage with both councils at chief executive and mayoral levels and to become champions and ambassadors at European Council and Commission levels to ensure that this immediate, unwanted and unfortunately tangible impact of Brexit is offset, the bid prevails and Béal Feirste and Doire are the European cities of culture in 2023.
I was shocked to receive several phone calls to my office in Carlow this week regarding the Department of Children and Youth Affairs removing the upper age exemption for an extra preschool year for children who may not be ready to start school. This was done without consulting practitioners in the sector. I am told that the announcement came from out of the blue.
I call on the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and her Department to explain why this happened. Why is the age exemption being removed from children in the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme from September 2018 and why was it announced by Pobal to early years providers without any warning on 24 November? Practitioners and parents are concerned, as am I. There are many children for whom this is a vital exemption. Some need an extra year before they start school and can still meet the age criteria, but now they will not be allowed to do that because they will have done their two free years.
Why is the Minister telling parents that it is up to them to finance this when many do not send their children every day during the free scheme years and could have built up enough days that the Department should pay for this? Some parents do not feel that their three year olds are ready for a five-morning week. Some five year olds still need extra time to avoid having to request staying back later on. Why can they not be accommodated?
Children transitioning to national school need to be independent and confident, have good social and emotional skills and be able to communicate, all of which meet the Department's criteria under the Aistear curriculum framework.
With this exemption removed some children will not be able to adhere to those criteria. The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-20, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, sets out the vision for Ireland to be one of the best small countries in the world in which to grow up and raise a family, where the rights of all children and young people are respected, protected and fulfilled, where their voices are heard and where they are supported to realise their maximum potential now and in the future. This announcement does not contribute to this and it will not serve well the children who require extra supports in early years education.
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?
Yes. This announcement is very bad news and the Minister needs to come to the House to discuss it.
Gabhaim mo chuile dhea-ghuí ar an Seanadóir Landy freisin. Is iomaí speáráil ar chúrsaí éagsúla a bhí anseo againn sa Seanad, ach is fear uasal é. I wish to be associated with the comments regarding Senator Landy, with whom I had many a ding-dong across this parliamentary floor. I always found him a very able combatant in that regard and an absolute gentleman when I met him afterwards. He is also great craic and great company. He is a wonderful man and I wish him all the best.
I have previously called for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House to update Members on the progress of the work of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. I am acutely aware that many of the survivors are elderly and have many health and other issues they want to have addressed. Some of them are living in unsuitable conditions and they seek practical supports, which are not being made available to them. They also are looking for the truth as to what happened to their siblings, mothers and loved ones connected to them. I hope we can have that debate.
I have also raised on a number of occasions the issue of the St. Anne's site, also known as Lenaboy Castle, in Galway city. It is a former Black and Tans barracks. We know from historical documents that there are tunnels under this building and some of the land surrounding it. I understand that heritage and archaeology reports have been done on the site. We have asked for these to be made available but there appears to be some blockage in that regard. We want to ascertain whether there are burial grounds on the site. Is the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government aware of these reports, has he had sight of them and has he been consulted on the transfer of that building and land to Galway City Council, which has also been given €750,000 by the Sisters of Mercy as part of that deal? If, God forbid, there is need for an archaeological survey at this site, similar to that being carried out in Tuam, will there be an associated cost and if so, will it fall on the State, Galway City Council or some other agency? I wish to ascertain whether the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has been made aware of these issues and whether he has received a report in this regard. If so, will he report to the House on it?
Last Saturday was the annual deadline by which members of the public could register to vote. This was yet another year in which the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government failed to bring this deadline to the attention of young people and other potential voters in this State, leaving much of the responsibility for registration of potential voters to civic society groups. This deadline for registration was crucial as an election looked imminent and in the context of the upcoming referendum in 2018 on the eighth amendment.
A report of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2008 found that the process of voter registration is archaic and outdated. Since then, there has been no genuine reform. Any queries or proposals on electoral reform in this House, for example, have been batted away and no real progress has been made. This year Galway County Council provided a facility which allowed people to input their details on the RFA form online to become a registered voter. While this was a show of ingenuity, it was in the absence of a centralised system or structure. I ask that the Leader request the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come before the House to reaffirm his commitment to establish an electoral commission and to outline the timeline in which this can be achieved.
Before I ask the Leader to respond, I wish to acknowledge Senator Wilson's condolences to the Georgian people on the tragic fire that has taken place in a city that is twinned with Cork. Unfortunately, the 11 people who died were all young people who had been trapped in a gym by the fire. I also wish to convey my condolences to the Georgian ambassador who is a great friend of Ireland at a time when his country is endeavouring to gain access to and become a member of the European Union.
I call on the Leader to respond.
I thank the 18 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business.
I shall begin by joining with the Cathaoirleach and Senator Wilson, on behalf of all of us, in extending our sympathies to the Georgian people on the tragic loss of 11 lives in an awful fire that took place in the city of Batumi. As Senator Wilson rightly said about the people of Georgia, and I had the opportunity to visit Georgia recently, they cherish democracy and freedom. It is important, in the context of where we are in society and life today, that we join in expressing our sorrow to the Georgian people through their ambassador in Ireland. He is a very amicable and personable man who does a huge amount of work. On behalf of the Fine Gael group and that of the House, all of us individually and collectively extend our deepest sympathies on the loss of life in the tragic fire.
I join with all Members of the House in their expressions of sadness that our colleague and friend, Senator Denis Landy, has decided to retire due to ill health. All that I wanted to say about him has been said. As Leader of the House, I got to know him through our work on the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh said, he was a very convivial colleague. He was a great man to make his point at a meeting. He was an extraordinarily well read Member. I had the pleasure of being with him in America as part of an OSCE mission to oversee voting and we had a wonderful trip. He was a man of huge insight, and still is. As has been said by many of his colleagues here today, he was a trade unionist in the old style of the movement. He was a socialist. He was a very proud member of the Labour Party and is still a member. I hope he remains committed to working, as he has done, on behalf of the people of Tipperary. He was a valued local authority member. As a Member of this House, he played a pivotal role. Up until recently he issued emails to advocate on behalf of councillors.
Denis had the distinction of being elected to two different panels - the administrative and agricultural panels. He will be remembered for his work as a representative of councillors. I want to wish him well in his retirement. He is a sad loss to this House because he brought a different perspective. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh rightly said, one could have many a battle with him on the floor of the House or at a committee but he was always willing to park any difference when one left the debate. He was a wonderful colleague. He had a huge depth of knowledge about many different issues. I really enjoyed his company on the trips with the OSCE. I thank him for his service to the Labour Party and to the local authority in his native Tipperary. I also thank him for his work as a Member of the Oireachtas. I wish him well and hope that he will be able to actively contribute to the House as a non-elected Member. I thank him and his family for their many years of service as a member of the political class.
I thank Members for their contributions on the resignation of the Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald. On a personal level, and on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I want to express my sincere thanks to the Tánaiste for her work as a pioneering Minister for equality throughout her tenure in the Departments in which she served. As Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I had the pleasure of working with her as the first member of the Cabinet to be a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I had the pleasure of working with her on a number of initiatives in that Department. She was exemplary as a Minister. I had the pleasure of working with her on the marriage equality referendum where she launched a Fine Gael LGBT group. On a personal level, she has been a huge source of support and advice to me along my journey in life.
She is a friend and a woman whose advice I cherish. She was an exemplary politician and I very much regret her resignation. Today in this House we are debating an issue that is before a tribunal of inquiry. It is called the Charleton tribunal, established by the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are having a discussion this afternoon and we have lost a Cabinet Minister on the basis of a media frenzy, as the Taoiseach said, about a number of emails, when 230 documents have been sent to the tribunal. I will reiterate the point I made in the House last week and the week before, namely, that all of us on this side of the House have one interest and one interest only - that the truth be established and that there will be political accountability. To be fair to the Fianna Fáil Party, the issue of political accountability is not one to which it is adverse. However, when I hear members of the Sinn Féin Party lecturing us on political responsibility and political correctness -----
-----it just causes me bemusement. I would urge them to ask their own deputy leader to check the record of the House and the statement she made last Thursday. As the Taoiseach said, will she go in and correct the record tomorrow? History will show us that the Sinn Féin Party-----
That was corrected although the email was received by gardaí.
History will show us that the Sinn Féin Party does not have any regard for due process and does not believe in natural justice. As Senators Coffey and Ned O'Sullivan rightly said, there are members of Sinn Féin who are resigning, citing bullying, all over the country, including in my own county of Cork.
That is nonsense.
I urge them to cast their minds back to the remarks of our former colleague, Senator Máiría Cahill, about the way she was treated. If they want to have a game of political opportunism, in which they have been engaging for the past month, I am very happy to do that. I will not even get into the party's new found respect for whistleblowers and members of An Garda Síochána. If they want to engage in that pursuit, we can do that.
The Leader should be ashamed of himself. His skin is incredible. He is defending the indefensible.
I am very happy to have a debate-----
He should answer for his own actions.
Allow the Leader, without interruption.
We will not listen to hypocrites.
The Senator should go back to bed; he might wake up in better form.
Hypocrites who wanted garda killers out of jail.
I am very happy to have a debate on justice in this House on behalf of my party. We have never been found wanting in terms of protecting the State, members of An Garda Síochána and the rights of all citizens-----
Protecting the State at any cost.
The former Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, introduced the legislation for the protection of whistleblowers and set up the disclosures tribunal to get to the full facts. That is all I am interested in. I am not interested in obfuscation.
I made the point in this House on two occasions last week that the Department of Justice and Equality is dysfunctional. I do not condone or support any Department that fails to give documentation to a tribunal. I am on the record in this House, long before the Tánaiste resigned today, about the fact that there needs to be full disclosure to the tribunal. I have only one motivation, namely, that the truth emerges and that the McCabe family receives justice. I have no other motivation and would be very happy to have that debate. When the former Tánaiste was Minister for Justice and Equality, she established the Toland review. The Taoiseach asked for a trawl within the Department to ensure that all documentation was produced and presented.
We will have him in for a debate next week, so.
I will not take a lecture from anyone on that side of the House about justice, truth and trust. Those of us on this side of the House have always been about the pursuit of truth. Whatever our differences with Fianna Fáil, ideologically or politically-----
Has the Taoiseach been telling the truth for the last week?
What about misleading the Dáil?
-----differences between ourselves and Fianna Fáil, we have one thing in common. We will serve the people in a responsible manner and that is what we try to do. Senator Ó Clochartaigh's party will not go into government anywhere.
We will, of course.
It is about time the party manned up and took its responsibilities seriously. I will not be accepting the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
In response to Senator Boyhan, I would remind him that I have asked the Taoiseach to come to the House. We are in the process of finalising that and I hope he will be here before Christmas. If he cannot come before Christmas, he will come to the House early in the new year. It is our desire to have him come in before Christmas.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the regeneration of Waterford and the North Quay development but the Senator neglected to mention that it was the former Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, now Senator Paudie Coffey, who set up the strategic development zones which will enable this development to go ahead.
But like Senator O'Sullivan-----
Election candidate Coffey.
We will put that right the next time.
The Leader is very anxious to conclude.
The Leader should take his own advice sometimes.
I commend Senator Coffey for his work and I share with Senator Grace O'Sullivan the need to see the development continue.
Senator Bacik raised an issue pertaining to the investigation in the Department of Justice and Equality. When the Taoiseach has an outline of the matter, he will come to the House to discuss the matter. Senators McDowell, Ó Domhnaill and Nash raised the Government of Ireland initiative. Senator McDowell's memory is either failing him or he is forgetting that he was in the Cabinet which approved many an advertisement on behalf of all Departments. As he knows well, Departments spend money on public advertising. Senator Warfield referenced voter registration. There is a campaign organised every year around the register. Whether the advertisement is outdated or not is a different matter, and how we can improve the advertisement is an issue which we can discuss. Certainly the issue of social welfare advertisements is not new. We had advertisements regarding social welfare fraud, road safety and the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Leader did not call them "Government of Ireland initiatives". The bad news is never referred to as a "Government of Ireland initiative".
We have advertisements on health and safety, fire safety and each one of them-----
The Government of Ireland brand was on none of them.
As Senator McDowell knows quite well - he is being mischievous now-----
I am not. I will tell the Leader this much.
It is not part of the strategic communications unit. They are departmental initiatives.
They are rebranding by the communications unit.
As Senator McDowell knows quite well, as a former Minister who signed off on advertising, it is a departmental initiative-----
I never did that.
Reining in Fine Gael.
-----which encompasses many varied forms.
The Leader is saying that it is a promulgation of certain benefits to society.
It is a rebranding exercise.
The irony is that Senator Warfield is being critical of the money being expended on voter registration and Senator McDowell is saying the opposite. We need to spend money to inform people of different things.
It is a rehash of the Creative Ireland brand.
Government money is being expended and we will get value for the money we spend. It is not a new idea. It is happening since time began.
Senator Devine raised the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. I am not sure if she checked the clár for this week but we will have two debates this week on the matter she raised.
Senator Ruane made very valid point on the women's refuge in Tallaght and South Dublin County Council. I hope that the matter can be pursued. Perhaps as a means of expediting the matter, Senator Ruane may consider tabling a Commencement matter.
I join Senator Gallagher in commending Garda Campbell for his initiative with transition year students in Monaghan. He might consult with Senator McDowell in regard to the manner in which we are promoting road safety. It is about ensuring that young people are made aware of the issues and how we do it. Senator McDowell might be critical of a garda going in-----
I am not putting the €5 million into that.
That is not part of the €5 million, as he knows
Is Senator McDowell back in government again?
I think the point the Senator makes is a very good one.
We need to continue such an initiative across the country. At that formative time in young people's lives, they are listening and hearing about road safety and it lands in their mind. I know from my time as a transition year teacher, it is a very important module in terms of road safety. I very much encourage the Senator to pursue that, perhaps with the Department.
Strangely, I agree with the point made by Senator Ó Donnghaile on Béal Feirste and Doire mar Phríomhchathair Chultúir na hEorpa. I very much agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile that there is a need for us to support Belfast and Derry as European capitals of culture.
I know from Cork, my home city which had the distinction of being the European Capital of Culture, that the title brings significant economic and tourism benefits to a city. In the case of Belfast and Derry, it would be a fantastic statement. I will support any initiative which would result in all of our island remaining part of the European Union. While there are clearly disagreements about what will happen, we should champion this wonderful idea. I will be pleased to lend my support to it, having seen the benefits that the title of European Capital of Culture delivered for Cork.
I am at a loss regarding the matter raised by Senator Murnane O'Connor as it is an issue I am not familiar with. Perhaps the Senator will receive a timely response if she raises the issue as a Commencement matter. I do not understand the issue, nor do I understand the reasons for it given the positive and proactive changes in the area of child care announced in the budget.
Strangely, I also agree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh on the pertinent point he made regarding mother and baby homes.
The Leader and I do not disagree on all issues.
That is true. Finality is needed in this case because, as the Senator stated, the women in question are getting older and deserve answers. While I do not wish to give the Senator a short answer, perhaps, given the busy legislative programme in the weeks before Christmas, he will consider raising the issue as a Commencement matter. If not, we will try to have the matter discussed after Christmas. I cannot give a commitment to discuss it before Christmas, however, although I share the Senator's views on its importance.
To respond to Senator Warfield, in the previous Oireachtas a joint committee produced important work on the electoral register. As the Senator is aware, there are many difficulties with the register. It is important the State continues to invest in encouraging people to vote. I am aware the deadline for voter registration has passed. It was ironic that there was a great deal of activity at the weekend arising from the possibility that an election could be held. In Cork city and county, people go door to door to speak with people about the electoral register. Perhaps we need to use social media to attract people to vote. The issue can be debated.
On behalf of the Government, I will reluctantly oppose the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.
Senator Paul Gavan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Taoiseach on the resignation of the Tánaiste and related matters be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Conway, Martin.
- Daly, Mark.
- Daly, Paul.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- McDowell, Michael.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.