The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re EU reception conditions directive 2013 (recast), back from committee, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than four minutes in which to reply; and No. 2, Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I welcome the Cathaoirleach back to the House and wish him a happy new year. Although the Government seems to be making a large number of announcements regarding housing figures, many of which have contradicted previous announcements, the harsh reality is that there is a cohort of people, including families with children, who are living on the verge of homelessness having been served with termination notices by their landlords who are, in many cases, selling up. This week alone two such families have called to my office and to the council looking for assistance. I am very disappointed by the services on offer by the various local authorities for those who are not homeless yet but who are on the verge of homelessness. People in these circumstances are turning to organisations such as Threshold or the Mercy Law Resource Centre which are filling in the gaps left by the State. In a situation where the Government is claiming false wins in terms of allocations to those who move from rent allowance to the housing assistance payment, HAP, it is disgraceful that the local authorities are not doing more to help those in receipt of the HAP to navigate the process with private landlords. We know how difficult it can be to get private landlords to accept HAP tenants in the first instance but more involvement on the part of local authorities with landlords could build trust and confidence for both tenants and landlords to ensure that the HAP system works better. It is important that we question to use of the HAP to demonstrate an increase in social housing allocations as many local authorities are simply moving people from rent allowance to the HAP. They are not actually increasing the allocation but simply changing how the figures look. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to address these matters, particularly how local authorities could facilitate those in receipt of the HAP. Obviously, I am not saying that HAP is the solution - we need to ensure we have a State-wide house building programme - but it is what is available.
The second issue I wish to raise relates to the backlogs and waiting lists at the Property Registration Authority of Ireland, PRAI, and the probate office. Applications in both offices are taking up to 11 months to process.
In circumstances in which housing construction is set to increase, support will be needed from the PRAI and probate office. There appears to be a resource issue in these offices. I ask that the Minister outline to the House what he proposes to do to ensure that the backlogs in both offices are addressed and the time for processing applications reduced.
I refer to the passing of Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon, who was the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces in 1995 and who gave 45 years of distinguished service to his country. Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon will be missed by many veterans. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I have spoken many times on homelessness and housing. I congratulate the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on the initiative he announced yesterday. As has been stated many times in the House, it is not possible to resolve the homelessness problem overnight. There is no magic bullet for building houses and apartments at the rate at which they are needed. However, the Minister's initiative provides people who are in rented accommodation and wish to buy a home at realistic prices with an opportunity to do so. However, the initiative has one slight downside, namely, the requirement that participants make a deposit of 10% of the purchase price of the house. While I acknowledge that we cannot fix everything, this requirement is a problem. I am familiar with a case, one with which I have a personal connection, involving someone who has paid €87,000 or €90,000 in rent in recent years. It will be difficult for this person to save a deposit of 10%. I ask the banks to consider the possibility of offering a loan at favourable rates to cover the 10% deposit. While I am aware that this would involve a return to 100% loans, this issue needs to be addressed.
If people outside the Pale who are in trouble with their mortgages could remortgage based on the new scheme proposed by the Minister, they might avoid losing their homes. If I am not mistaken, the 2% or 2.25% interest rate announced by the Minister would mean a couple on a joint income of €75,000 would not spend more than 25% of their income on mortgage repayments. If the interest rates announced by the Minister were to apply, it could result in fewer people being added to the homeless list.
I appreciate that the €200 million sanctioned by the Minister for the new scheme was probably for new homes only. He could take a further incremental step that would prevent people from becoming homeless. I compliment the Minister who has been getting a great deal of stick for purportedly either doing nothing or doing this, that or the other. He is making slow but sure progress and made one announcement after another. The problem has not been completely fixed, nor will it be completely fixed. The Leader and I will be long gone from the House or, I hope, back after an election before-----
We will be in a different House.
The big House.
Homelessness will not go away but we have to acknowledge the incremental steps the Minister has taken. I compliment him on what he has done.
Like many other people, I was shocked on Saturday to discover that the US Vice President, Mike Pence, had taken part in a military photo opportunity with American troops at Shannon Airport. This incident raises a number of concerns. Ongoing concerns about the use of Shannon Airport for military transfer, which have been well aired in this and the Lower House, have not yet been addressed. There are also specific concerns, including that this military photo-op on Irish soil was for the administration of another country and involved troops who are taking part in actions far outside the triple lock and normal UN conventions.
It was also concerning because it was being used at a divisive time in Irish politics. The tweets and messages sent out by the political figures at the time were used as a source of division and were being used in respect of the shutdown in American politics. They were also concerning because - so far away are we from the triple lock now - the mission that the US Vice President, Mike Pence, was on was not a mission in any way related to any kind of UN mission but a mission to promote the active disregard of UN resolutions. It was his mission to travel and promote the opening of an embassy in Jerusalem and several stops thereafter. We have several layers of concern around this trip. I would like to know and I would like the Leader to find out, if he can, the answer to several questions. Was the Government aware of this? How was the Government aware of it? What decision-making took place around allowing such a media opportunity to take place in Ireland on Irish soil?
Again, this points to wider concern in the House around the slow erosion of neutrality. We are keeping the word but we are chipping away. We saw homelessness being chipped away as an issue. We have this chipping away now.
Questions arose at another moment. An article in the Irish Examiner before Christmas told us that the numbers being rescued by Irish naval missions in the Mediterranean are going down. Again, I applaud every front-line member, every staff member and every member of the navy. I am proud of them and their unique mandate. We knew that the decline in numbers would materialise because it was signalled clearly by the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe. He told us that humanitarian search-and-rescue was moving down the line as a priority. Now the interception of all supplies to Libya has become different and more of a concern.
A motion on permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, was passed before Christmas. It contained no mention at all of peace, peace-keeping or peace-building. I believe it was a mark of disrespect to the House when the Minister of State directly refused to answer questions on whether joint military procurement between Ireland and other countries would be subject to the triple lock, whether it would have appropriate scrutiny and whether we would ensure that when we buy military equipment, it would be used within a UN mandate. He said he would answer questions in the Dáil. I hope he has the opportunity to answer the questions, but I believe those of us in this House are entitled to ask these questions also.
We know the public supports neutrality. I am calling again on the Leader to communicate to the Government the importance of an active passionate engagement, not only vigilance around our neutrality but passionate embracing of Ireland's role in peace-building. This requires such vigilance and it requires us taking ourselves seriously. It is an important time. It is a hawkish time. Let us step up to that role.
I extend my congratulations to the 2018 Mayo person of the year, Sr. Maureen Lally. It is a well deserved award. I have known Sr. Maureen well for many years. She has worked tirelessly to empower communities throughout Mayo as well as with individuals to enable them to fulfil their capacity. She is an absolutely wonderful person and a well deserved recipient. The Mayo young person of the year is Michaela Walsh from Swinford. She has broken all Irish records and set new records in hammer-throwing. She is a wonderful example to young people throughout the country. The meitheal award went to the Blacksod and Eachléim community for the part they played in the rescue of the R116 crew and the tragic events last March, as well as to those in the emergency services who worked for many days on the project. I congratulate all of them and we are very much looking forward to them receiving the awards on 10 February.
Today, the issue of flooding is again in the news ahead of the predicted heavy rainfall and strong tides in the coming days. People living in areas in Mayo such as Crossmolina, Ballina, Carrowholly, parts of Ballcroy and other coastal communities are deeply anxious about what is going to happen in the coming 48 hours and what will happen to them, their families and their livelihoods. These communities and others have never left the headlines when it comes to the destruction caused by flooding.
In many areas, even through the good weather, homeowners, farmers and business owners are left fearing freak weather conditions and the impact of the heavy rainfall. I know that along with the local authorities, the Office of Public Works, OPW, is developing the catchment flood risk assessment and management plans. Out of this work will come the flood risk management plans, but now is the time to act. Now is the time to provide funding to these communities, and to listen to them on the solutions they have put forward to prevent flooding in the future. It is too late for Ministers to stand in front of the press outside the flooded premises and homes and promise humanitarian aid and assistance. Why are the plans taking so long to finalise? The year 2021 is a long way off. There are another four winters for people to endure first. Is it a question of staff or capacity? If so, what are the plans to address these issues? The plans will not only identify areas at risk, but will also inform developers, farmers and the local authorities in selecting suitable sites for builders. Without these plans we will continue to suffer the consequences of poor planning decisions.
My colleague, Matt Carthy, MEP, has highlighted again and again that Ireland is in danger of being in breach of the EU floods directive. The EU may well impose sanctions until the plans are published. The timeframes for the production of reports do not have to be final. The Government can put pressure on the administrative deadlines when it wants to, and I urge it to do so in this case. It will certainly have Sinn Féin's full support both in these Houses and at local authority level. I ask the Minister to appear before the House to have another debate on the flooding issue, and to discuss how we can listen to these communities and directly provide funding to solve the problems there. I wish everybody well in the next 48 hours.
I wish to let colleagues know that next Tuesday we will be launching the Vótáil 100 programme of events here in Leinster House. That is the programme of events to commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland. This year, 2018, marks the 100th year since women achieved the right to vote in 1918. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle and members of our steering committee for all the great work that has been done in producing great publicity materials and putting together a programme of events around women's suffrage.
I would particularly like to thank the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for allowing the use of the Seanad Chamber for a series of events. I know that the Leader is well aware that we will be holding the final of a transition year debate in this House on 17 April. That is just one of many events. I thank Senators McFadden and Higgins in particular for all their work on the committee. We will be launching the programme next Tuesday at lunchtime. All Oireachtas Members will receive information on the events and one of our special commemorative badges marking the centenary of this important commemoration.
I commend the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, for his speech in the Dáil last week on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, and to say just how impressive I thought the debate in this House on Wednesday evening was. It was extremely respectful and dignified, and there were so many contributions from so many. The Labour Party has always had a consistent record in seeking repeal of the eighth amendment. It is really positive to see the leader of Fianna Fáil coming out with similar words last week. It is time for the Taoiseach to say where he stands on this issue and to show leadership. I very much hope that he will endorse the excellent recommendations of the committee so ably chaired by our colleague, Senator Catherine Noone, and that he will also support the repeal of the eighth amendment in the way that Deputy Micheál Martin has done.
I call for a debate on housing, as others have done. While it is welcome to see the Government announcing further initiatives to ensure greater access to affordable housing, there is a fundamental problem of lack of supply. I am very glad to see Bob Jordan, the former Threshold chief executive, being appointed national director of the Housing First summit. That is very positive. However, I think Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has it right when she says that there is still a lack of urgency and coherence about the initiatives the Government is announcing on housing, and in particular a lack of coherent response to the problem of supply. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, the Labour Party housing spokesperson, has called for the 700 sites across the country in public ownership to be put to use in the provision of housing as a matter of urgency. There is no issue around ownership. Those sites are already publicly owned. That is the very minimum that should be done as a starting point.
I echo the words of Senator Higgins on the recent visit to Ireland of Vice President Pence of the United States.
I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to go somewhat further than we have done to date and for Ireland to recognise the state of Palestine in light of the comments by Vice President Pence that the US Embassy would be relocating to Jerusalem by the end of 2019. We have already seen nine European Union member states give formal recognition to the state of Palestine. Ireland should also do so. I know the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will be in this House next week and I will be making that point to him at that time.
I would like to talk about social protection for the self-employed. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection carried out a survey of 20,000 self-employed people last year. In that survey, 76% of self-employed people said they were in favour of a new stamp. The majority wanted it to be voluntary. I would prefer if it was mandatory but I am happy to get it one way or another.
I have fought for the last six or seven years to get this stamp in place. Through the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, we have the Mangan report. The report is ready to go. A self-employed person pays 4% in PRSI. The Mangan report says that it would have to increase to 5.5% for the new stamp but it would provide for sick pay and disability pay for self-employed people for the first time. That is very important.
I thank Senator Norris. The Department is dragging its feet on this issue. The new Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was the Minister formerly. He was pushing it. We have a new Minister now and I feel that it has been pushed to the back burner, which is not good enough. I appeal to Fianna Fáil, our partners in government. It is in the programme for Government that we progress this new stamp for the self-employed. We are the only country in industrialised Europe that does not have a stamp for the self-employed. That is an absolute disgrace. I welcome all the changes that have happened for the self-employed in the last 12 months. There have been new dental benefits, new access to eye checks and tax equalisation for the self-employed, but this has been dragging on and on. We are talking about a stamp that should have been put in place 30 or 40 years ago, perhaps even 50 years ago. There are 400,000 self-employed persons in this country who go out to work every day and who have no cover if they get sick in the morning or - God forbid - if anything happens to them.
Their employees do, however.
Absolutely. It is always the case that the self-employed person is the last to be looked after. He is paying his taxes, his PRSI and his VAT, and he gets nothing if anything goes wrong.
We have to put something in place. I ask the Leader whether we can have the Minister in to discuss this again. Can we stop kicking the can down the road? Let us put a new stamp for the self-employed in place in the next budget.
I remind the previous speaker that, unfortunately, Fianna Fáil is not in government. If we were, I can assure him that we would not be having this conversation because we would have already had it.
It is in the programme for Government.
Whether Fianna Fáil is in or out, it is in the programme for Government.
I would like to move on without interruption. I would like to raise an issue which I have raised here on a number of occasions, namely, the chronic shortage of teachers throughout our schools. I have highlighted this issue in the House on a number of previous occasions but, unfortunately, nothing has happened on it to date. I understand that our party, Fianna Fáil, has a Private Members' motion tabled for debate in the Lower House tomorrow evening which will again highlight this issue and bring forward what the party sees as solutions to it. I have no doubt that all Members of the Lower House will support that very worthwhile motion.
It has been clearly apparent for a long time that schools are finding it extremely challenging to obtain and retain teachers in the right subjects in order that students in schools are able to select the subjects of their choice. I recently heard a statistic in respect of the subject of physics. There are only six physics teachers due to graduate over the next two years. That highlights the problems we have in that subject alone. We have the ongoing cruel situation where young, newly qualified teachers who are doing the same job as their more experienced colleagues in the staff room are being paid less money.
Their colleagues in the staff room are being paid less for doing the same job. That is very unfair. It has been around too long and needs to be addressed. School principals say that it is nearly impossible to find a substitute teacher when the need arises. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills to this House to outline how he intends to address this issue? It has reached a critical stage. We need to retain the teachers we have and to put packages in place to encourage the young teachers, who have emigrated for financial reasons, to come home.
It is welcome that some progress has been made on the issue of people whose pensions were detrimentally affected by the Act passed in 2012. I have raised the issue many times. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has been working hard on this and received Cabinet agreement on allowing post-2012 pensioners choose between their current rate and that to be introduced under the total contribution approach. In most cases, people will gain and those who might not gain will not have to change over. I know there is work to be done on correcting the losses sustained in recent years.
Yet again I raise the need for a competent independent regulator to rule on operating conditions at Dublin Airport. Passenger numbers hit 30 million last year, up from 18 million in 2011 when Fine Gael came into government. This is a great success story for tourism but the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, and local residents need clarity on planning conditions at Dublin Airport where a new runway is under construction. If the existing planning conditions are applied, traffic at Dublin Airport will be restricted to 27 million passengers which is 3 million fewer. The impact of that on Dublin Airport, with Brexit looming, is there for everyone to see. Each job at Dublin Airport is followed by nine ancillary jobs. Transatlantic passenger figures are up as well because we have USA pre-clearance and there were 3.5 million passengers last year.
Dublin Airport is one of the most important economic assets in the country. It supports or facilitates 117,300 jobs and contributes €8.3 billion to the national economy. It was 78 years old yesterday. It supports 20,000 jobs directly. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport needs to come back in here. He cannot go on ignoring this problem. A regulator needs to be put in place and if there is a need for legislation to do it, we need to fast track that. We cannot leave this matter hanging in the balance and creating uncertainty for the people who live around the airport and the important jobs created by the airport and the potential to create more.
I ask the Leader to call the Minister in to explain his plans. He has had ample opportunity to address this issue. He promised us that the Irish Aviation Authority would rule on this and then decided this would not be the case. He owes it to the people around the airport and to the Irish economy to rule on this and do so quickly.
Both sides of the House might need counselling to prevent the fracture in the harmonious marriage between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I welcome the closing of the pensions gap as announced by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. I attended a briefing on this by Age Action and other organisations last week, and their protest outside this House. The main concern is that the pensioners will not receive the money they have lost since 2012. This has been confirmed. They have been wrongly receiving the reduced State pension since 2012 but none of that money will be returned.
In the solution brought forward today, the Government has failed to do this and to give them back the sum of about €30 per week that they were losing. The new system is to be implemented from March this year without back money. As a means to address the impact of the 2012 change on over 42,000 people, the Government is bringing forward a total contributions model for these people. They will now have their pensions reviewed based on their own entire working lives. I do welcome the review as well as the introduction of the new home caring credit for up to 20 years to assist workers who took time out to raise families and care for others. The long-awaited action by the Government on this matter is welcome. We must also recognise, however, that pensioners will be bitterly disappointed not to receive what was taken from them and what was rightly theirs since 2012.
I agree with the previous speaker. Even though we are delighted with the changes, there needs to be a lot more done. I firmly agree with that.
I would like to raise an international issue that has very disturbing local consequences. The UK construction and service company, Carillion, which is involved in six projects in Ireland, collapsed this month. The six Irish projects include five schools, one of which is the Carlow Institute of Further Education. Carillion employed 43,000 people globally and was, until its troubles, a 200 year-old company.
The issue I have is in my own home county of Carlow. Carillion is a 50% shareholder in the company constructing Tyndall College and Carlow Institute of Further Education. Although the Department of Education and Skills assures me that 90% of the project is complete, what about the last 10%? What is left to be completed? Is it the doors, floors, or walls? What is not finished? Every time I drive by, I see that there is a lot of work still to be done. The last time I checked, 90% was not the same as 100%.
This is very worrying for parents, teachers, managers, students and for the future. We have no timescale. Carlow needs this project to be finished and I would like the Minister to tell us when and how that will occur. If the company contracted for the project has been forced into compulsory liquidation, will the Department roll up its sleeves and finish the last 10%? This is crucial. We have a fabulous college that needs to be finished. I am aware that the Minister for Education and Skills was in Carlow last week. However, as of yet we have got no commitment. I am asking for a full commitment that the last 10% will be finished and that the college will be completed.
I express sympathy on the passing of the late Dolores O'Riordan, a native of Ballybricken in Limerick. I attended the funeral over the weekend. As Dolores sat behind me in school, I knew her then. She was a very fine person and a great ambassador not only for Limerick but for Ireland. She was a great performer. I offer my sympathy to her mother, Eileen, her siblings and the rest of the family.
On the pension announcement today, in the past I have raised the issue of ladies and the marriage bar and the number of people who lost out in their pensions. It is a welcome announcement by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection today that people's accumulated contributions are going to be taken into account and also that there will be 20 years allowed for the homemakers and carers and those who stayed at home to rear their children. This is very welcome news. People do not have to contact the Department. The Department will contact those whom it thinks are affected. It will be effective from March 2018, which is most welcome. As has been said already, 42,000 people have been affected by this in the past. The development is most welcome.
I congratulate Senator Norris on winning "Celebrity Home of the Year".
Thank you very much.
It was last weekend that the Senator was on the Ray D'Arcy programme and people thought he was getting notions again for higher office.
No, I can-----
It is appropriate to offer congratulations where they are deserved. The Senator has spoken about his home and that part of Dublin with great affection and sincerity.
It is a great honour for a Senator to have one of those accolades. As Cathaoirleach, I extend my congratulations to you.
You are very kind, a Chathaoirligh. I really do appreciate it. It also gave me the opportunity to divide the money between the homeless, Sr. Stan and a charity which stops young gay people from being bullied.
At the weekend there were reports in the newspapers of the settlement of an action in the courts. In this case a pedestrian was knocked down by a cyclist who was cycling on the pavement and was seriously injured. A settlement was made. However, although in the United Kingdom cycling on the pavement is illegal it is not so in this country. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to give an opinion on whether it is his intention to introduce such legislation. If not, I will certainly set about drafting and introducing it. It is extremely dangerous for cyclists to cycle on paths. Very often they are cycling very fast on pavements. There are elderly and blind people and it is very easy to knock them down. I have almost been knocked down on several occasions when I have been walking on pavements in Dublin. I do not think it is right, particularly when there is increasing provision for cycle paths.
I raise my reservations ahead of the opening of the new family hub in Dublin next week. Lynam's Hotel is due to open as a family hub next week and 38 families will be accommodated there. They will have kitchen and laundry facilities, as well as play facilities for children and places for them to do homework. While all of this is welcome, it is not ideal. My concern is that it is being operated by a private company. I understand Dublin City Council is leasing the hotel from the owners. The State will pay the owners to run the facility. I would like to ask the Minister to come to the House because I would like to know how much it costs to provide this service per family and per person and how much the company will make. I have raised this issue on numerous occasions because up to €400 million was spent on companies operating direct provision centres around the country over the past seven years. To my mind, they were never run properly and were never humane. It was not good value-for-money.
I have always disagreed with it. I believe very firmly that if a family hub centre is going to be run it should be run by a charitable organisation because they know how to do it. The midlands Simon Community in my area has been deemed as the most cost-effective organisation in the country in the provision of homes for homeless people. That is the sort of organisation which should run family hubs. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss how much this is costing and how much the State will pay. I do not agree with the decision.
I welcome the announcement by the so-called dissident republican group, Óglaigh na hÉireann, that it is ending its armed actions. This is very welcome. The group carried out an horrific attack on the Catholic PSNI member Peadar Heffron in 2010. The group comprises former Provisional IRA members and carried out its first action in 2009. I pay tribute to the men who helped to end it, trade unionist Peter Bunting, Conal McFeely and Fianna Fáil Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív. I also pay tribute to the work of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and many others who worked with dissident republicans in Maghaberry Prison and elsewhere. The work is very valuable. It is another move in the right direction and towards the normalisation of peace in Northern Ireland and our country. There is no place for violence on the island of Ireland. I hope other dissident groups will follow suit.
I pay tribute to my neighbour and friend, Paul Young, from Cartoon Saloon who received his third Oscar nomination today for the film "The Breadwinner". His father was Sean Young, a bank manager who came from Ballymaguigan, County Derry and lived across the street from me. We are very proud in Boyle of our two movie stars, Paul Young and Chris O'Dowd. Boyle was also the home of Maureen O'Sullivan who lived up the street from me and played the role of Jane in the "Tarzan" series of films. Boyle is a town from which many film stars have come, which I hope will be recognised.
I refer to the health service and note that the Minister for Health today presented the bed capacity review to the Cabinet. It is extremely important that there has been a full review and that the agreed number of new beds that are considered to be necessary be opened to deal with the challenges health services face. In opening new beds there is also the challenge of making sure wards will be adequately staffed. When I raised this issue last year, I pointed out that the HSE had been well able to recruit more than 2,000 administrative and managerial staff in a very short period. In responding to the needs highlighted in the bed capacity review I hope we will also be able to employ the additional staff required to provide adequate care for the patients who will occupy those beds.
The negotiations on the GP contract have been under way for more than 12 months. I firmly believe this issue needs to be given priority and that GPs need support to deal with the increased demand. There has been a major change in the demographics which will continue over the next ten to 20 years. We need to be ready to face the challenges presented by an older population and many more people being retired. There will also be an increased demand on the health service. If sufficient progress is not being made by the National Association of General Practitioners, the Irish Medical Organisation, the Department of Health and the HSE, we should seriously consider looking for an independent chairperson to chair the negotiations. The issue needs to be given priority. We also need to have targets and deadlines to make sure comprehensive health care support will be provided in the community.
I apologise for arriving late. I was listening to the Order of Business on the monitor.
I want to raise a point that is relevant to the one raised by Senator Ray Butler about the self-employed and it is one I have raised on a few occasions. Members of the Oireachtas are not entitled to parental leave, be it maternity or paternity leave. That is a serious issue because we are trying to implement policies that are family friendly in circumstances in which we do not have our own house in order. Senator Ray Butler rightly mentioned the self-employed in this context and has been consistent on the issue. Self-employed women and men who wish to take paternity leave are precluded from doing so because of the reality of their jobs. In many instances, they are providing employment and contributing to the Exchequer in a major way. We need to prioritise policies that are family friendly, given that there are professions other than politics that do not necessarily attract many women. They include surgeons, for example. I believe only 7% of surgeons are women who find the position very difficult. It would be very helpful, therefore, to have a discussion in the House in the near future on this issue and link it with the one raised by Senator Ray Butler, with the Minister for Employment and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, in attendance. Perhaps it was something the Leader had intended to suggest.
I commend Aldi on introducing a restriction on the sale of high-sugar energy drinks to those aged under 16 years. These drinks have been linked to sudden cardiac death in some instances, but also feed in - pardon the pun - to the obesity problem. It has been long established by experts that the one thing they feel that we, as policymakers, could do is reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened drinks that young people drink. That is a huge driver of the obesity problem with which we are faced. What is proposed is not a panacea and it will not solve the obesity problem. However, measures of this sort are very helpful in the overall scheme of things. I am conscious as well that we are having a discussion on obesity on Thursday so I will leave it at that for now.
I thank the 16 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business. I join Senator Byrne in paying tribute to Dolores O'Riordan and remembering her today when she is being buried this afternoon in County Limerick. We remember her as a talented musician, a wonderful person, a mum to her children and, as Senator Byrne rightly said, a wonderful ambassador not just for Limerick but for Ireland. We extend our deepest sympathies to her mother, Eileen, her siblings and her children on their tragic loss. I join Senator Craughwell in expressing our sympathies to the family of the late Lieutenant General Gerry McMahon, retired Chief of Staff, on his death. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam dílis.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of housing and the HAP. It is important that we put it in context today that the Government's objective is to reduce the number of people who are homeless and those who are sleeping rough and in emergency accommodation and to provide more social housing. The figures have increased from 700 to 2,000 in 2017 to, I hope, 4,000 this year. We need to continue activation measures to improve the supply of housing, not just in the private market but also in the area of social housing. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil today, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of citizens own and buy their own homes. It is also important, as Senator Craughwell said, to praise the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for the work he has done to date. The Minister is committed to ensuring that housing affordability will be a central focus of his work.
The Government is determined that the housing stock will be increased to 50,000 by 2021 under the Rebuilding Ireland programme. When the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, was Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, he received multi-annual and ring-fenced funding, as does the current Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in respect of the task at hand. If it was just a case of increasing the budget to solve the problem, that would be the end of it. There are some in the House who believe that the solution is to throw money at everything, but that does not always work. What we must ensure is there is a multi-agency approach involving the Government, the HSE, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and local authorities to ensure that people are able to move from their current situations, whether they are homeless or in temporary accommodation, into social housing. We must also ensure that we can have an affordable purchase scheme and an affordable rental scheme. That is why the Government took the initiative outlined yesterday. I commend the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on the work he has done in respect of the measures outlined yesterday. It will take time.
We must never forget that the construction sector experienced a lost decade. I will not go back over the reasons for that but those Members who know should recognise that certain parts of that jigsaw have not disappeared. Let us look at what IBEC stated recently about those involved in trades and apprenticeships. The Government must prioritise apprenticeships in the construction sector as a matter of urgency because there is a deficit in terms of some of the skills that are needed now to address the housing problem. We have some work to do and we are doing it. I commend the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on what he is doing.
I am not familiar with the second issue Senator Ardagh raised but I would be happy to get the details from her and to talk to the relevant Minister. She is correct that we must put all the building blocks in place together to ensure a collective approach to tackling the matter she raised. I thank her for raising the matter and I will be happy to speak to her about it afterwards.
Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of mortgage arrears. There is merit in what he is suggesting, namely, taking a collective, new approach to addressing the issue. It includes the Government, banks and various individuals involved working to address it. I am concerned about the need to have a 10% deposit. Young people working in many parts of Cork and elsewhere in the State claim it is a major issue which I hope will be addressed in the future.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to the visit of the US Vice President, Mr. Pence, to Shannon Airport last weekend. The use of the airport has been well documented, articulated and debated in this House. I do not share the views of the US Vice President on many matters, but I do not believe he was being deliberately provocative in using the opportunity to visit troops heading to Kuwait. He was on a three-country visit. It is important, however, that we keep our neutrality in context. I certainly would not want to see it being chipped away. I will be happy for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come to the House in the near future to discuss the issue. Perhaps as a matter of expediency, the Senator might table a Commencement matter because in that way she might obtain a quicker answer. The Minister will, however, be in the House in the coming weeks. I sincerely share the Senator's view that we should not allow anything to chip away at our neutrality, but I do not believe that has taken place in this case. I share the Senator's view that we should not allow the US Vice President to use any of our airports as a bully pulpit to lecture different parties in the US House of Congress, but in saying that, there is nothing to preclude the Taoiseach or Ministers from being interviewed and doorstepped in other parts of the world.
I join Senator Rose Conway-Walsh in congratulating the Mayo person of the year Sr. Maureen Lally and also Ms Michaela Walsh and the Blacksod-Aughleam community rescue services on their victories in Dublin last week. Those who volunteer and provide services are the heart of communities, for which I commend all of them.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, and the Office of Public Works have been very proactive in tackling flooding throughout the country. We saw their success last week in Bandon, County Cork. There are plans in many parts of the country to put flood defence barriers in place. We all want to ensure communities, towns, villages and homes are secure. I am sure the Minister of State will work with all of us to have this matter addressed as a matter of urgency.
On the comments of Senator Ivana Bacik, I am not sure I know where to start in commending Deputy Micheál Martin, but I am sure there are many in the Fianna Fáil Party who do not share his view. I thank all Members for their participation in the debate in the House last week which was very measured, responsible and respectful. To give him credit, I commend Senator Gerry Horkan who chaired much of the debate in the absence of the Cathaoirleach for doing a very fine job.
I join Senator Ivana Bacik in commending Senators Gabrielle McFadden, Alice-Mary Higgins and all members of the Vótáil 100 group for the work they are undertaking to celebrate the centenary of universal women’s suffrage. It is great that the Seanad Chamber will be the forum in which the debate will take place on 17 April. I certainly hope it will be a year of celebration.
Senator Ivana Bacik should note that the Taoiseach has always shown leadership. It is prudent that, as Head of the Government, he take time to listen and engage before announcing his own decision and making his statement on the eighth amendment. I am sure he will do so.
I will be very happy to have a debate on housing and the approach taken by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I join the Senator in congratulating Mr. Bob Jordan, a former adviser to the former Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Simon Coveney, on his appointment to Housing First.
Senator Ivana Bacik also aired her views on the visit by the US Vice President, Mr. Pence.
Senators Ray Butler and Catherine Noone referred to the self-employed. It is an important issue that Senator Ray Butler has consistently championed in this House and one on which we need to see continuing work, building on the Mangan report. I will be happy to have a debate in the House on the issue in the coming weeks. I agree with the Senators on the need for the self-employed to have greater rights and entitlements.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred to the teacher shortage. It is worth noting that there will be a debate on the issue in the other House this week and that since 2012, 8,900 more teachers have been employed in schools.
There is an issue regarding substitution and replacement. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has been proactive with the different teaching unions with regard to the recruitment of teachers in physics, home economics and other subjects. There is a need for recruitment to continue but also to change the way we recruit and advertise teacher training. The number of people applying for teacher training has remained consistent over the past several years.
Senator Gallagher also raised the issue of pay inequality among teachers. I share his view but a significant amount of work needs to be done on pay equalisation. I hope the basis for change can be made in the coming months. I would certainly be happy for a debate on that matter in the House.
Senators Reilly, Devine, Byrne and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of pensions. Senator Reilly has always been to the fore on this matter, raising it in the House frequently. I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, on this matter. It is the beginning of the next phase of the Government's work in this area. The Government has agreed to allow post-2012 pensioners to choose between their current rate and that to be introduced under the total contributions approach. A new total contributions approach will be available to pensioners affected by the 2012 changes and will include a new home caring credit of up to 20 years. Back money will be given to people. The approach is expected to significantly benefit many people, particularly women whose work historically included an extended period outside the paid workforce at home while raising families in a caring role. I very much welcome the work done by the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. I commend Senator Reilly, who has always raised this matter, and thank all Members for their contributions on it today.
I agree with Senator Reilly on the issue of Dublin Airport. It is the main airport of the country and a new runway needs to be built there. As Senator Reilly quite rightly said, there is an obligation on the Minister to come forward to reveal the plans for this and, if necessary, a new independent regulator to take on board the issues raised about it. We need to see it happen immediately as a matter of concern. We do not want to choke Dublin Airport any further. While some of us would argue for other airports, such as Cork and Shannon, to be given a priority, Dublin is our main hub and international airport.
Senator Devine raised the issue of counselling. The confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is going quite well. We would be happy not to take any counselling from the Sinn Féin Party which needs to look at other issues also.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the liquidation of Carillion and the site for a new school in Carlow. Last week, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, issued a statement on the matter. The National Development Finance Agency is the body responsible for the management of public private partnerships on behalf of the Department. It is actively engaged in the projects for six schools on four sites. I would be happy for the Minister to attend the House on the matter. It is important we have these projects completed and that the six schools in question are delivered, particularly the one in Carlow referred to by Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I join the Cathaoirleach in congratulating Senator Norris on his victory in "Celebrity Home of the Year" and commend him on his generous act of donating his prize money to charity.
I am not familiar with the court case regarding cyclists to which Senator Norris referred. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House on the issue of cycling and the use of footpaths. It is important we have a debate on this issue. As more cyclists are using our roads, a harmonious relationship between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians needs to be developed.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of the new family hub in Lynam's Hotel, O'Connell Street. She raised valid points regarding the allocation of moneys. It is important we get this right. It is important the local authority and the Department work together to deliver for the families who require this service. I would be happy to have a debate on this issue in the House.
I join Senator Feighan in commending the work of Oireachtas Members and other people in ending Óglaigh na hÉireann's existence. All of us, who want to promote peace and want to see peace in Ireland, recognise that it took an amount of work to get to today and we commend all involved on that. I also join him in congratulating Paul Young on his nomination for an Oscar award. The Minister, Deputy Madigan, will be in the House tomorrow for a debate on arts and culture. I did not realise Boyle was such a hotbed of talent. The Senator outlined the history going back to the original Tarzan almost and Chris O'Dowd. I commend everybody involved in nurturing that talent.
There is still a lot of talent there.
There sure is and it includes Senator Feighan, let me add.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about the health budget and recruitment. It is important to recognise that the Minister, Deputy Harris, has received the biggest allocation in the history of the State in this year's health Vote and more people are employed. The country is in the top five per capita in the world. I agree with the Senator that it is about ensuring that we retain staff. We need to understand it is not just about spending money, but about how we recruit staff, where we recruit them from and where we put them. There is a need for accountability and responsibility in the health budget. It is important to have an honest debate on the health budget. Some people think that allocating money to everything solves the problem; it does not.
The Senator is right on the GP contract and I would be very happy to facilitate a debate in the House on it. In my opinion primary care is the most important part of the health budget and the health process. It is very important to get the new GP contract right. I agree with the Senator on the need for it to be prioritised. If there is a need for an independent chair, let us bring it in.
Senator Noone spoke about Aldi's banning of the energy drink, which I welcome.
Mar fhocal scoir, I welcome our former colleague and friend, Mr. Jim Walsh, to the Visitors Gallery. He is certainly looking well in his retirement. I know he is probably not retired. I wish him well. It is good to see him.
I thank Members for their participation in the Order of Business.
The Leader anticipated my welcome - I do not want to repeat it - for our former colleague, friend and long-standing Member of this House. When he served in the Chamber, it was not in this venue, obviously. I wish him well. It is nice to see him come back to pay a little homage to the current Seanad.