The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on emergency department waiting times, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Vehicle Registration Data (Automated Searching and Exchange) Bill 2018 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 3 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, statements on housing, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 4.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 4, Technological Universities Bill 2015 – Second Stage (Resumed), to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m., with no less than five minutes to be given to the Minister to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
With a small bit of political apathy setting in, many people are switching from "Prime Time" to another programme on RTÉ called "First Dates". However, not all first dates end well. I welcome today the Garda backing a nationwide roll-out of an Ask for Angela campaign for those who feel unsafe on their dates. This campaign encourages those who feel uncomfortable in a situation, whether it be in a bar or restaurant, to ask a barman or a waiter to ask for Angela. This alerts the barman or waiter that the present company is making her feel uneasy and the barman or waiter will try to quieten the situation or put the woman at ease and in some situations, she could ask for a taxi home. This campaign started in Lancashire in England and has been rolled out successfully in Waterford. Cork County Council will also be rolling it out. I very much welcome the roll-out by An Garda Síochána of this campaign to protect women.
The second item I would like to raise today - it is with sadness that I raise it - relates to the 15th murder in connection with the Hutch-Kinahan feud last night. It is ten days after the murder of Derek Coakley. It is four days after the shooting on South Circular Road, where an innocent bystander was also shot. It begs the question as to how many more murders must happen on our streets before the Government takes proper action. Local communities are living in fear and there does not seem to be anything meaningful done by the Government. All I can say is the Government seems to be losing its war on gangland crime. I call for an emergency debate in this House and invite the Minister for Justice and Equality into the House to let us know exactly what he is doing to combat gangland crime in this city.
Tá dhá rud gur mhaith liom a chur i láthair maidin inniu. First, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, into the House to discuss RTÉ and its strategy plan in the short, medium and long term. RTÉ, as the public broadcaster, is a key communicator in Ireland communicating news, information and so on. I happened to be on the board of RTÉ two years ago and it does fantastic work. It would be worthwhile and important for all of us to see what the Minister has to say regarding the strategy for RTÉ. It is becoming far more competitive. There are many more television channels available and other options available to consumers. There are a couple of key areas I will share with the House this morning. First, RTÉ operating costs are €355 million a year. That has gone up from €320 million the previous year, in 2015. Operating costs are increasing by approximately 7%, and this is purely financial. Some €16 million of that was one-off items - the general election, the 2016 centenary, the UEFA cup, the Olympic Games, etc.
There is a significant challenge to its revenue, particularly in respect of the licence fee. There has been some media information on this in the past two months, particularly last November. I would like to ask the Minister to clarify the sources of funds and resources for RTÉ in order that it remains viable and a key integral part of public broadcasting in the country in the future. Advertising and commercial revenue is more or less static, at €155 million. The other main income is the licence fee, which is approximately €180 million.
Recently, a significant event happened in RTÉ with regard to selling some of its assets, namely, selling of a vast amount of property. The Minister should also address the House on how that income will be spent. I hope it will be ring-fenced for RTÉ but I would like to learn whether that will be going into capital expenditure or whether the revenue will be used to try to cover ongoing day-to-day expenses. Is é sin an chéad cheann.
I very much welcome the Taoiseach's announcement go mbeidh 2018 mar Bhliain na Gaeilge. Ba bhreá liom dá mbeadh straitéis ag an Teach seo ó thaobh Bliain na Gaeilge de. Dá bhrí sin, iarraim ar an gCathaoirleach agus ar an gCeannaire a gcuid tacaíochta a thabhairt don mholadh go gcuirfí iarratas chuig an gCoiste um Nós Imeachta agus Pribhléidí go mbeadh lá nó dhá lá iomlán againn anseo sa Seanad, ina shuí mar choiste, agus go dtabharfadh muid cuireadh do na dreamanna éagsúla atá ag plé le forbairt na Gaeilge, forbairt na teanga agus forbairt an chultúir teacht isteach anseo mar fhinnéithe ionas go mbeimid in ann labhairt leo agus tuiscint a fháil ar an straitéis atá acu ó thaobh na Gaeilge de. I believe that would be a significant message to convey regarding the total support of Senators and the Seanad for the Irish language and culture.
I wish to raise the long delays in the Government revising the 2005 rural housing guidelines as they apply to the local needs criteria. In 2007 the European Commission issued an infringement notice against Ireland in which a view was expressed that Ireland's local needs criteria for one-off rural houses are excessively restrictive and may be in breach of the treaties. The Flemish decree handed down by the European Court of Justice in 2013 appears to clarify that to be the case. It appears from parliamentary questions and a circular in May 2017 from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that to avoid the escalation of the 2007 infringement case from the Commission the Department established a working group to examine those guidelines. The replies to the parliamentary question indicate that the group is engaging with the Commission to identify a way forward. The Department said in the circular last May that the guidance would be updated in the second half of 2017 but, unfortunately, we are still waiting for that guidance. It is another missed target for the Government, along with the missed target for the publication of the national planning framework. Both the new rural housing guidelines and the national planning framework must be viewed in the same context. Both documents were due last year and both are essential for good planning and giving important advice to people who are hoping to invest in their own homes in rural communities.
I have always been a strong supporter of robust frameworks for the operation of our rural housing policy. They must be environmentally sound and operate on the grounds of sustainability, efficient use of services, good use of land, good design quality and so forth. The delays in publishing the new revised guidelines are causing problems for families throughout the country and in the middle of an unprecedented housing crisis. I know people who have deposits on sites in County Louth who are wondering if they can stop renting and if they will be allowed to build in the villages in which they have made their homes. In many cases the villages are where they run their businesses and they are actively engaged in the communities they now call home. There is a huge degree of uncertainty because of the delays in addressing this problem and in bringing forward the revised guidelines, as the Government is required to do. It is causing problems for people and must be addressed. Will the Leader clarify when the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will bring these guidelines forward and when they will become policy for each local authority?
I propose to amend the Order of Business to include motion No. 12 on the Order Paper, submitted by the Sinn Féin group, without debate. It is about children with serious and complex medical needs and the community participation in primary care that is vital. It is widely accepted best practice that service users should be involved at every stage of service development and implementation. A national steering group is being set up to decide on policy for children with complex medical needs but there is no representative of the parents' voice on that group. It is disappointing and bizarre. It is a ridiculous stance on the part of the HSE. I am proposing this amendment to the Order of Business because of the urgency of the matter. I believe the group will be established in the next few days and we might as well pack up and go home if parents are not included in it. They are the experts. They care for their children and have their best interests at heart. That is true of the other people in the group but we need the ethos of community participation, which is well established in our systems and particularly our health system. We must empower parents in the best interests of their children.
It has been brought to my attention that the proposed amendment to the Order of Business was sent to the office around lunchtime on Monday. The rules for motions such as the one proposed by Senator Devine are that four days' notice must be given, which means it should have been submitted last Thursday. I was not asked to insert it and I have limited discretion. I have decided that I cannot allow the motion because of the abridged time. It has not been on the weekly Order Paper. The other reality is that probably two thirds of the Members are not aware of this, so I must rule against the Senator in that regard. I realise it is important to her but it is not of such urgency that one can decide otherwise. I try to be fair in facilitating Senators but the four days' notice is a precedent that is long established for good reasons. It is not a case of it being an hour or two out, but two full days. It should have been submitted last Thursday before 11 a.m. With regret, I must rule against the proposed amendment.
Can I respond?
Very briefly. I do not wish to debate it.
It is an extreme disappointment for all those parents and carers who are listening. I understand the procedures of getting-----
That is not fair.
Let her finish.
She is being unfair to the Cathaoirleach.
I am not being unfair to the Cathaoirleach. That is for him to decide.
Let the Senator finish her comments. I am sure she will accept the decision.
Make your point briefly.
I am very disappointed for carers and parents in particular. Procedure has got in the way of passing this motion. I put it on the Order Paper in consideration of its urgency. This does not give succour to those children, parents and carers. However, I will resubmit it on the Order Paper for next Tuesday. Incidentally, it is fewer than two thirds of Senators who were not aware of it.
I made my ruling with regret. The next speaker is Senator Maria Byrne.
I wish to highlight the fact that the Central Applications Office, CAO, deadline is tomorrow and I encourage all students who wish to continue to third level education, be it in institutes of technology, universities or any form of third level education, to think long and carefully about it. It has been reported that the largest number of job vacancies in 2017 were in the banking and financial sector and in accountancy. It appears there are not enough graduates in those areas. There are also many vacancies in apprenticeships. A small builder I know who is carrying out a project in Limerick is finding it very hard to get qualified bricklayers, carpenters and so forth. There is a shortage. This man is going to take people on and bring them through the apprenticeship programme. I hope to see more of that happening.
In light of the majority, not unanimous, Government decision on Monday last, 29 January, to hold a referendum to delete the eighth amendment, Article 40.3.3°, of the Constitution and replace it with a new amendment to allow the Oireachtas to introduce legislation to allow unlimited abortion up to 12 weeks, will the Leader schedule an early debate in the House in advance of the legislation? I did not participate in the earlier debates that took place in this House because I was awaiting the decision of the Government. That majority decision on Monday was to propose holding a referendum, subject to the decision of both Houses of the Oireachtas, and that the referendum be held in May.
I felt the debate here was premature in advance of that information. I also wish to remind media outlets that any constitutional change would be recommended by a majority of votes in both the Dáil and the Seanad, not just in the Dáil. It might have been very convenient for the Government had it abolished Seanad Éireann but that was not the case. We have a decision to allow a referendum and, if it is so permitted and the decision is made by the people, it will be our task to bring forward, support or oppose the legislation arising from that decision. Particularly in television and radio, I notice constant mention of a decision by Dáil Éireann. It is not a decision by Dáil Éireann but by the Oireachtas under the Constitution. Seanad Éireann is a separate House and we will make that decision in due course with proper information. I am making no further comment in this House until either the legislation is brought forward or the Leader agrees to a calm and enlightened discussion arising from the decision on Monday and the Attorney General's recommendation. We might then discuss, in advance of the legislation, what the views will be here, particularly of Members who did not speak initially. I would extend that also to those who have already spoken without knowledge of what the Government's decision or the Attorney General's advice was going to be.
I wish to refer to an organisation called the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland. I heard a representative of this organisation on "Morning Ireland" on Monday railing once again against the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. By coincidence, as I was coming into the Chamber today, I saw its representatives busy lobbying. Perhaps I am showing my own naivety but I am surprised by the amount of lobbying by the various arms of IBEC that goes on here every day. I wonder if the public actually realises just how intrusive big business is in terms of public policy.
They do not.
What shocked me about the contribution on "Morning Ireland", and perhaps I should not be shocked, was that the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland was railing against the proposals to label alcohol as a cancer-causing product. I drink, so I am not coming here with a holier-than-thou attitude. The facts of the matter are that alcohol causes mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, breast, liver, bowel and pancreatic cancer. It is a cause of death and serious illness to people across the country. The concerns of this organisation, which is busy in here lobbying the big parties in particular, are that the Bill is going to cost the producers money. It is shocking to see that this organisation could come in day after day. To be fair, I recognise that the Minister for Health is doing his best in this circumstance. I am glad that the Seanad did not give way on this. We need a debate on the level of lobbying by big business across both Chambers.
I want to put on the record my own absolute disgust at the activities of big alcohol and the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland. They are not even pretending to care about people's health. All they care about is their profits and the costs to their producers. The cost to the health of the people of our country clearly does not register at all. I call for that debate.
I was delighted to hear the news yesterday that Ireland is finally to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is a significant development and I warmly welcome it and commend the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on finally bringing it to that stage. I have spoken on the matter, as have Senators Dolan and Conway.
However, that welcome news comes just 24 hours after Irish Rail's new pilot project to make using trains easier for people with disabilities was criticised by some users. Under the new plan announced by Irish Rail, mobility and sensory-impaired rail users would have to give four hours' notice to a station if they want to travel so that ramps can be provided. While this is an improvement on the 24 hours' notice that is currently in place, I do not think it is good enough. No other rail user has to give notice. If I want to go on a train, I buy a ticket and board a train and that is it. Why should a person with a disability be treated any differently?
Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 places a duty on public sector bodies to be proactive, to promote equality and to protect the human rights of people with disabilities. Irish Rail is 100% owned by the Government and received a State subvention last year of €133 million. It seems to me that the subventions some public sector bodies receive rarely get to the service users. I call on the Leader to request that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, engage with Irish Rail to ensure that it is fulfilling its obligations. Such action would help provide reassurance that our ratification of the UN convention is a meaningful process and not just a token gesture.
I acknowledge the work of Senator Máire Devine on raising the issue of children with complex medical needs. I can understand well the Cathaoirleach's decision on the timing of this. However, this is a very important issue which has time constraints on it and it needs to be discussed urgently in this House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health should attend the House today to explain why parents' voices have been excluded from the national steering group in this respect. It beggars belief that a parent's voice would be denied on such a steering group. This needs to be urgently addressed. I do not do this lightly or in an attempt to rob the Senator Devine of her hard work. I offer it as a way of moving forward, having a discussion, and allowing the Minister to come in and explain. I urge the Leader to amend the Order of Business accordingly. I hope the Minister will, if at all possible, amend the steering group to allow a parent's voice be part of it.
I formally second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
No, Senator Nash has already spoken. I will let somebody who has not spoken already second it. Senator Mac Lochlainn has yet to speak. I did not make the ruling lightly. It is a matter for the Leader to accept the Senator's amendment. He is in order in that regard.
I formally second Senator Humphreys's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
On the eighth amendment, I was abroad so could not take part in the debate. My views are pretty well known and I have stated them over many years. I think I was the first person in Ireland to put abortion down on a manifesto in 1977, which is a long time ago. I think the Government would be foolish if it attaches to the referendum suggestions of 12-week free-range abortion. It would be much better advised to go for the removal of the eighth amendment simpliciter and then leave time for debate and discussion about what replaces it. It took a long time for the leaders of the two parties to come to their conclusions after having read the report of the committee and all the rest of it. The Irish public also needs sufficient time.
I was astonished to receive in the post a list of CEOs and their incomes. It went from €5.5 million down to a mere piddling €1 million. It is just astonishing. Some of them were people from the banks, which are a public disgrace. They are getting millions for making a balls of running the banks. I just do not understand it.
I raise the issue of hedge cutting, which is a plague in rural highways and byways. I call for a co-ordinated approach between the ESB, Eir and the county councils. There are many areas where the hedges are never cut. In other places, it is haphazard. With a pooling of resources, we could achieve far more hedge cutting.
It really is a road safety issue in many areas of the country that do not get the benefit of having hedges cut. I ask for it to be brought to the attention of the Minister and, if necessary and appropriate, for it to be teased out further in the House.
I want to express my concerns at the chronic underfunding of the Michael Davitt Museum in Straide, County Mayo. The museum is housed in a magnificently restored pre-penal laws church in the village of Straide between Castlebar and Foxford. What makes the museum unique is that Michael Davitt was christened in the church in 1846 and is buried in the grounds of the 13th-century Straide Abbey beside the museum. I need not educate the House on Michael Davitt or on his fantastically hard work because his legacy speaks for itself. He advocated for the three Fs, namely, fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale - allowing tenants to buy their lands from oppressive but mainly absentee landlords. The Michael Davitt Museum offered guided tours to more than 5,000 visitors in 2017; it is probable that another 5,000 visited the site over the past year.
Despite existing on a shoestring budget, the museum offers guided tours and holds lectures, exhibitions and community events. The museum caters for larger groups, which include schools, historical societies and active retirement associations. It has been rated in the top ten in Ireland by TripAdvisor for 2017 and as the number one museum in the country outside of Dublin yet the only funding it has received from central government over the past five years is a grant of €20,000 from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. This provided a heating system for the museum and a small portakabin, which is divided into offices and a kitchen. Various applications have been made to the Heritage Council but no funding has ensued. Applications have also been made to the Office of Public Works, OPW, but have failed to bear fruit. It is essential that funding is made available to employ a small number of staff on a permanent basis. This will provide continuity and expertise. If this does not happen, the museum could cease to exist. We are very good at commemorating and celebrating our past in this country. Yesterday I received a lovely pack from the Houses of the Oireachtas with the programme for the commemoration of women's suffrage. It would be an awful pity to celebrate and commemorate some individuals and movements, while letting others go to rack and ruin.
I have raised the issue of one of the major community and tourism amenities in the Inishowen Peninsula, Swan Park, which was destroyed six months ago in last August's floods. I cannot imagine where else in the State a major amenity such as a riverside park would be permitted to remain closed for six months without a sign of Government funding. What adds to my anger is that a meeting was requested before Christmas with the relevant Ministers, including the Chief Whip, Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, who is from Donegal, and a cross-party delegation from the Inishowen municipal district to discuss and examine the options. There has been no response; there has been radio silence. It is a simple request to have a meeting facilitated as soon as possible. I ask the Leader to raise that with the Government and come back to me.
The second point is-----
I will clarify again. It is the Minister, Deputy Ring, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, because Donegal County Council owns Swan Park, as well as the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh. We want them to meet a cross-party delegation of councillors from the area.
Yesterday there was welcome news, which was long overdue, that the Government would ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The point was made here today that, whatever about the Government and the political system accepting the need for change, clearly the permanent government of civil servants are not accepting it. The issue here is dealing with children with complex needs. There is no State hospice for children who are dying; the LauraLynn facility is privately funded. We are well behind established best international practice. We are playing catch-up and I find it incredible that the HSE does not include representatives of parents from the Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, LauraLynn or the numerous parents' groups in the State. I accept the Cathaoirleach's decision but this will come back next week and hopefully will not go to a vote. I am asking that in the interim, the HSE reverses its decision immediately and includes representatives of the parents in order that it can make sure whatever new arrangements and supports are in place reflect the needs of parents and not what the HSE thinks they are.
I echo what Senator Swanick said about the Michael Davitt Museum. It was a very well made point. It is an extremely important resource. It is a national resource in terms of the contribution that was made to our history. The assistant of my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, is a descendant of Michael Davitt and he would certainly echo that point. Senator O'Sullivan also sits on the housing committee. It is a sad reflection that the current chair of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, has a very different kind of message to the one Michael Davitt put forward in the early days of Ireland. It is worth reflecting how far we might be from the three Fs now in respect of fair rent, fixity of tenure and so on.
I want to emphasise the other point made. The Vótáil 100 launch yesterday was a really powerful reminder of how democracy, change and women's equality was pushed forward in Ireland. I acknowledge my fellow committee member, Senator McFadden. I urge people to engage with the programme and to look at the women's franchise leagues that may have existed in their parts of the country and how they can help this to become a national moment. Given that we are talking about the franchise and democracy and its extension, a clear and glaring oversight is the extension of the franchise in Seanad elections. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, came to the House on the last day before the Christmas break and indicated he is moving forward on the issue. I would like the Minister of State to give us a report on when we will move forward on Seanad reform, when we will have the long-promised implementation group in place to see meaningful implementation so we are not going into the election in the same point of stasis again. Will the Leader talk to the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, about when he might be able to come to the House and properly debate Seanad reform with us?
Like others, I welcome the Government's decision yesterday to proceed with the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was in the previous programme for Government and the present one. The previous Government did a lot of the necessary groundwork to bring us to where we are today. It is absolutely appropriate that we acknowledge the significant commitment of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to achieve this. Ratifying a convention is one thing; creating and protecting equality and the right to equality is a completely different thing. It will require a number of Bills. I propose that Seanad Éireann be a willing participant in initiating legislation if it happens that the Dáil programme is overloaded, in the spirit of moving this on to a situation where there are no barriers and where society is an equal playing pitch for everybody. It is something we all want to see. Seanad Éireann is the appropriate House to push that forward.
It was very distressing and disturbing to hear last night of a further person being shot dead as part of the gangland warfare that has gripped the north inner city of this great capital. When resources are made available to deal with these things, it works. If one considers Limerick, I note they were killing one another there a few years ago. The resources were put into Limerick and it no longer has that situation. The criminal gangs were taken out.
The same thing needs to happen in Dublin. All Members will agree with me when I commend An Garda Síochána for the work that it continually does in dealing with this situation. I propose that the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House for statements on the ongoing gang warfare in Dublin city.
Between 2011 and September 2017, IDA Ireland made 3,000 site visits across the country. Of that 3,000, County Monaghan had only seven in that six-year period, and County Cavan only ten. This pattern is replicated in many other rural parts of Ireland. If the Government is really serious about rural Ireland and its future, it must make job creation there a priority.
Unfortunately, last week's announcement that there would be further delay in the national broadband scheme will demoralise the people of rural Ireland further. It is soul destroying when, year after year, these figures are published showing job creation or, more accurately, the lack thereof, in the Border counties and rural Ireland generally. I do not see any reason the Government should not prioritise these areas. In County Monaghan, for instance, we have two world-renowned leading companies, Monaghan Mushrooms and Combilift, which export globally. These companies export daily and weekly to every part of the globe from County Monaghan. There is no good reason counties such as Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal and other Border and rural counties cannot accommodate world leaders. It needs Government to show direction but unfortunately over the last six or seven years, since the Leader's party has been in government, that has been lacking. I ask that the Leader bring the Minister to the House so that we might discuss the future of rural Ireland and how the Government sees it develop.
Cuirim fáilte chomh maith céanna roimh an aitheantas atá le tabhairt ag an Rialtas do dhaoine le míchumas. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go ndéanfaí é sin. I also welcome the recognition of people with disabilities and their international human rights. I agree with previous speakers that there is no point in conferring those rights if the requisite resources are not put in place in order to allow people to vindicate those rights. In the past, we have seen the recognition of Traveller ethnicity but on the ground, and particularly in Galway city, one sees an appalling situation where young Traveller families with children who are quite ill, and who come under both brackets of disability and Traveller, are treated in a disgraceful manner. They are not being provided with proper accommodation. It is a damning indictment of Galway City Council and Galway County Council that they have not put any appropriate accommodation in place for those families. It is really important.
Sometimes one can wonder if we do anything of value in these Houses. In the past, Senator Mac Lochlainn was the Chairman of Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. As part of its work, the committee wrote a report on direct provision. One of its recommendations was that the Ombudsman be given oversight of the direct provision system. I welcome yesterday's report from the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, who has made a point of doing a report on the direct provision system, in which he notes that he has received 97 complaints about the system. The report covers the whole range of issues which we have raised in this House repeatedly. The Ombudsman reiterates the point that direct provision was designed as a very temporary measure and has been transformed into a long-term solution for the Government but it is certainly no long-term solution for the people in the system. We need to take what he says on board, along with the observations of the Ombudsman for Children, of international bodies and our own Oireachtas committees, namely, that direct provision is totally and utterly unfit for purpose. It needs to be fixed. It has nothing to do with there being a backlog of applications, the system in itself is an abuse of human rights. This House and the other House need to take that on board and ensure that we address these issues around the direct provision system and put in place another, proper system. A specific debate on direct provision with the Minister as soon as possible would be very welcome.
I was going to raise the matter of the banks and tracker mortgages once again but I feel the focus today should instead be on the non-HSE parent representative on the primary care steering group, which has been mentioned previously. I say that because in 2008, I was very involved in a project involving the HSE and the Combat Poverty Agency relating to community participation and primary care. It was a means of addressing the inequality and marginalisation that went on in decision making within the HSE.
It mesmerises me that ten years later, we are still arguing over whether a parent should be on this primary care steering group. It is without question that a parent ought to be there. What is the HSE afraid of? Is it afraid for its power and control, the institutionalised thinking of the senior management and the protectionism that exists in protecting the system that is there and is not serving the Irish people? Is the HSE afraid that somehow, by a parent being on this group, that will be threatened?
I thank the other Senators who have supported this motion today and my own colleagues, Senators Devine and Mac Lochlainn, for bringing this forward. It is crucial that parents' voices are heard. Parents of children with disabilities are one of the most marginalised groups in this country. They fight every day for their children and the rights that they should have. They need to be there and their voices need to be heard. I am sick and tired of the power and control within senior management in the HSE and the institutionalised thinking there. It has to be tackled and this is just a small way of doing that. We should not even have to discuss it here now, ten years after community participation in primary care was lauded.
Once again I raise the issue of escalating insurance premiums, something that has been raised in the House regularly over months and maybe years. It is having a devastating effect on SMEs and people in commercial entities but they can pass on the increased premium through the product or service they provide. This morning's "Today with Seán O'Rourke" programme featured representatives from charity groups and organisers of local events, such as small festivals or parades in rural Ireland. These organisations are being crippled. The programme featured a list, which is too long for me to rehash here, of festivals, events and parades organised by not-for-profit voluntary groups around the country which will not take place this year because of the exorbitant insurance prices they are being asked to pay.
This has been brought up at committees, in the Dáil and in this House but it is time to act when one sees volunteers, who are prepared to provide a service or entertainment and organise tourist attractions in their own communities being stopped, and when one sees charity groups and organisations having to abandon their great work because they cannot afford to pay the premiums. One example was given where there was a claim. It came to €24,000 but the premium was increased in the following year by €75,000. There is no correlation or relationship between increased risk or previous claims, it seems that many of these insurance companies merely pick a figure and move on. It is damaging for commercial entities but they have an opportunity to pass the costs on. For voluntary groups such as charities and organisers of local events, there is nowhere for them to pass on the premium and all this means is that the events will not take place.
I draw Members' attention to a press conference that was held yesterday in the Europa Hotel in Belfast by several families which campaign for truth and justice in unresolved atrocities in the North. Many will be familiar to people. There is Loughinisland, the McGuirk's bar bombing, the Ballymurphy massacre, and there are many other campaigning families and survivors.
They have come together to announce plans for a mass rally in Belfast on Sunday, 25 February, not only to remember their loved ones but also to try to progress the political resolution required and, in the first instance, to heed the call from the Lord Chief Justice in the North to release legacy inquest funding, which the British Government currently is refusing to do on the basis of what it deems a national security veto.
I have noted, acknowledged and appreciate the remarks of An Taoiseach and other senior Ministers with regard to their support for the families. I call on all of the parties and Independent Members to support them. I have spent the past four or five Friday mornings outside the Belfast High Court with the Loughinisland families, whose judicial review into the ombudsman investigation of the massacre there was a hugely strenuous and wearing period for them. All of these families are left in this limbo. We all have a duty and obligation to support their call for truth and justice in the first instance and collectively, if we do support them, within the context of the talks in the North to put it up to those who refuse and who seek to pull a curtain down on the litany of cases that now must go through the High Court in the absence of-----
Is it cross-community?
It will most definitely be cross-community because the allegations of collusion and state killing impact across the community.
That will be on Sunday, 25 February. We need to move this into credible, effective delivery for people but in the first instance, there is an onus on all of us to support the families in Belfast on Sunday, 25 February.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I join with Senator Ardagh in commending the Ask for Angela campaign. I support and endorse it and advocate for its roll-out across the country. Senator Ardagh in her contribution made reference to the television programme "First Dates Ireland" and the success that it is. While I think it is important people move beyond the "First Dates Ireland" programme, Senator Ardagh is correct there are dates and incidences that go very badly wrong and where the woman is the vulnerable victim. I hope the point Senator Ardagh has raised this morning on the Order of Business will emanate beyond this Chamber because it is an important issue we must highlight, articulate and advocate. I congratulate her and thank her for raising the matter. I was not aware of the campaign and I certainly think that we, as a House, should support and endorse it. The programme "First Dates Ireland" perhaps sets a false picture because it is done under the guise of a television programme but, as Senator Ardagh said, there are incidences where people are victims and are vulnerable. We saw an example yesterday where a young man was lured to a situation where two other men beat him up and they were brought before the courts. They had created a false profile on a dating app and this young man was then beaten and severely injured. What Senator Ardagh is raising is an important issue and I support her wholeheartedly.
I join with Senators Ardagh and Conway in condemning the murder of any citizen of our country. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the 15th gangland murder yesterday. Senators Conway and Ardagh made reference to what the Government has been doing in Limerick and Dublin. It is important to recognise that the Government has increased resources. Almost €100 million has been made available by the Government to the Garda for overtime to support ongoing operations in regard to gangland crime. To take the example of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act, the Government has enacted new legislation to further target criminal activities. We have also given additional power to the Garda for the immediate seizure of assets of those who are suspected of being involved in crime to prevent those assets being disposed of. It is also important to consider the armed support unit where, at the request of the Garda Commissioner, in 2016 the Government moved to strengthen Garda resources to deal with gangland crime in Dublin. The armed support unit for the Dublin metropolitan region, which was launched in 2016, is now operational 24-7. In addition, the Government has created a special task force under the acting Garda Commissioner to target organised crime. It is also important to say there are members of our communities who have information on gangland crime and those involved and they should come forward to support and assist the Garda in regard to the matter of organised crime, which has no place in our society.
Senator Ó Céidigh made reference to RTÉ and the Minister, Deputy Naughten's strategy for the national broadcaster. I would be very happy to have the debate in the House. Tugaim mo thacaíocht don Seanadóir Ó Céidigh maidir lena mholadh iarratas a dhéanamh don Choiste um Nós Imeachta agus Pribhléidí ar lá iomlán don Ghaeilge. I would be happy to support any initiative we could take at the CPP to support the Irish language and the use of the Seanad in promoting it. I am sure we will be able to have a discussion on that at the CPP.
Senator Nash raised the issue of the delays with the rural housing guidelines. Many of my colleagues on the Fine Gael side of the House have been raising that matter at the parliamentary party level and with Ministers. It is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I am sure that, as part of the national planning framework, we will have that decision soon. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House.
Senator Devine raised the matter of the motion which the Chair ruled out of order and Senator Humphreys then jumped in to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I spoke to Senator Devine before the commencement of the Order of Business. I am slow to divide the House because I share the view, and I think the memo went out to Sinn Féin in order that they would all come in and speak on it this morning-----
The Senator would say that anyway.
The Leader should not make assumptions.
As I indicated to Senator Devine, I am not against what she is trying to do and I am quite supportive, as somebody who has been involved with disability in chairing the health committee. I thank the Senator for raising the matter this morning on the Order of Business and for ringing me before the Order of Business.
I understand the difficulties involved for the parents in the situation she has raised. There is no doubt in my mind that parents are the best guardians and the best advocates for their children and they are well aware of the needs of their own children who, as Senators Devine and Humphreys noted, have complex medical needs in this case. I believe there is a partnership approach between the medical staff and the parents who aim to deliver the best outcome for children in terms of care and the pathways to care.
To add to that, prior to the Order of Business I put in a request to the Minister's Department, although I have not got a response yet, which to be fair I expected, given the timeline was quite short. I understand the HSE set up a working group in 2015 to review current policy, practices and the provision of all home care needs for children with complex medical conditions. The review highlighted a number of significant areas where policy and practice required further change, enhancement and movement. Having dealt with the HSE through my constituency office, I know of the matter of care for children. The steering group came back with a recommendation under the national quality package assurance process. Within that, while there is not a parent representative and while I accept my interaction has been limited in this regard, I understand there will be an ongoing process to ensure quality assurance in respect of paediatric home care packages.
I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House next week, rather than divide the House today. The Senators could also, as a matter of urgency, put the matter down as a Commencement matter as they would get the answer from the Minister quickly if they are successful in having a Commencement matter taken tomorrow. It is a very important issue and I am not diluting that. Rather than create a political football out of it, I would be happy to work with the Senators to try to get an answer.
The Minister is in the House later today, and I would be happy to talk to him then. Rather than dividing the House and making a political football out of it, I would be happy to come back and talk about this again and try to get answers as to how we can help parents. The HSE has made it quite clear and an independent process has been set up. If the Senator can wait until tomorrow or next week I would be happy to talk again about that.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the CAO deadline for applications tomorrow and I wish all the students who are applying every success. It is a very onerous time for students in filling out the CAO application. Many parents in this House understand the pressures of the CAO deadline. Picking a course and thinking about their choices of career is important for young people. Senator Byrne also raised an issue which we as a State have an obligation to look at, namely, apprenticeship schemes and how we can advance apprenticeships in different key parts of our economy. I would be happy to have that debate at a later time.
Senators Leyden and Norris raised the matter of the eighth amendment. I am not quite sure what Senator Leyden wants to debate. We had a very important debate last week on the work of the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which was set up by the Oireachtas on foot of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. Government made a decision on Monday. As part of the process of the holding of a referendum we will debate the referendum Bill, and I am quite happy to have the debate as part of that. However, there was no secrecy or rush last week. We came back, we sat and we held a debate which was open ended. All Members were welcome to speak on it, irrespective of their viewpoints. I am not sure what Senator Leyden wants to debate now. We will have the debate on the referendum Bill. If legislation is published we will debate it. This is a time for people to reflect upon what the Government has recommended. There are many different viewpoints in this Chamber and among the different political parties. I am well aware of that, but we had a very good and very mature debate last week on this issue, and I commend all the Members of the House on that. We will have the debate as part of the referendum Bill, which will cover what the Senator is looking for, if I understand him correctly.
We were speaking in advance of a decision of the Government. The discussion last week was irrelevant because it did not bear in mind what was happening on Monday.
The Senator is wrong.
Let us be blunt about it.
The Senator, with respect, is actually wrong.
Am I wrong?
We had a debate in the House.
The debate was this day two weeks ago.
It was two weeks ago when we came back after the break. We had an open-ended debate, and there were different viewpoints expressed.
Is it still open ended or can it be resumed?
The Senator is a long-term Member of the Oireachtas at this stage-----
Indeed I am.
-----and he is trying to play-----
I was here in 1983 when the amendment was made.
He is a great survivor, in fairness to him.
I am one of eight Members who was here then.
Did the Senator support it?
Of course he did.
I did, like the majority, except for Mac Giolla, De Rossa and the Labour Party.
The point is that we had the debate and it concluded because we ran out of speakers.
I am not going to allow debate on it during the Order of Business anyway.
I had no intention of speaking on it before the Government made its decision. Am I making my position quite clear?
The Senator did not speak so that is the end of that.
I agree with Senator Gavan that we have to have an absolutely honest debate on alcohol, and I support him on the issue of labelling. Labelling is an important part of raising consciousness on issues such as alcohol. I agree that we cannot allow a particular segment of this debate to be allowed to dominate. The Senator spoke very strongly on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and was part of the deliberation.
I am smiling because lobbying takes many different paths, and his own party is quite good at using the audiovisual room to lobby and advocate, as is its right. Senator Devine should not get cross. I said that it is her party's right, but it is a form of lobbying. The drinks industry uses a different form of lobbying. It takes place every day and we, as Members of the Oireachtas, are lobbied with regard to every part of what we do. That is part of the job.
He wants his old lobby washed down.
I agree with Senator Gavan that we should call lobbying out for what it is. It is a particular group or political party trying to influence, dominate or lead to changes in legislation or to effect change.
They are in here every day.
Yes and the Senator and his party use the audiovisual room with different groups every day or week as well.
We do not use it to court big business.
There is always going to be lobbying, but we should always understand and stand up for what we believe in, and I share his view completely on that. It is important that the register is kept, as per the Lobbying Act, and perhaps is looked at. The point Senator Gavan raised, which perhaps is more suitable for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, or the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, is the question of when lobbyists are allowed to enter and interact with Members within the compound that is the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is a different matter and perhaps we should have a conversation about it in a different forum.
Senator McFadden, like Senator Conway, welcomed the decision of the Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also spoke about Iarnród Éireann and the issue of four hours notice versus 24 hours notice. I saw the clip on the news, and it is extraordinary that a person with a disability has to apply four hours ahead of travelling. It is discommoding to them, as citizens and as individuals, and they have a right, in my opinion, to be able to access buses or trains regularly. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House.
I gave Senator Humphreys his reply as part of the answer on complex needs.
I am not sure whether Senator Norris wants a debate on the salaries of CEOs or what he was looking for.
Yes, I want a debate on that and salaries around the Houses of the Oireachtas as well. There are probably many functionaries who get a lot more than we do.
I take it that what the Leader has said in response to the amendment to the Order of Business-----
The Senator should let the Leader finish-----
I wanted to point out that-----
-----and then I will ask if the amendment is being put and the Senator can make a brief comment.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of hedge cutting. I believe she has a very good suggestion in terms of different organisations and councils pooling resources to ensure that we have safe roads, particularly our non-national roads or primary roads which are dangerous because of overgrowing hedges and ditches. Some people are against cutting hedges and ditches but it is a matter of safety, and I believe Senator Mulherin's suggestion is quite a good one.
Senators Swanick and Higgins raised the issue of funding for the Michael Davitt museum. I am sure the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, would be happy to talk to them about funding. I do not have an answer for them on that question, but I accept the point that the museum is an important asset and we should support it.
I do not have an answer for Senator MacLochlainn in terms of Swan Park. The Senator has raised the matter, and I thank him for doing so. I have spoken to Members of the Government about that matter and I will do so again. I do not believe his request is unreasonable.
It reads like a swan song.
I hope it is not his swan song.
I am sure that it will be raised again unless it is resolved.
I will liaise with the Minister on this issue. I have asked the Senators to name the Ministers. I will do that for Senator MacLochlainn. I support the Senator also in terms of the national hospice for children. We need to have that debate. The LauraLynn foundation does huge work. I have visited it as Chair of the Joint Committee on Health and I commend all of those who work there and care for young children in a very stressful situation.
Senator Higgins made a number of references. Mr. Conor Skehan is before the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government today and I will let him deal with it himself. I do not believe he can be equated with some of the comments the Senator has attributed to him in terms of rent, etc. He is a very fine individual who is doing a good job.
In terms of Vótáil 100, we commended Senator Bacik yesterday, along with Senators McFadden and Devine who were also part of that campaign. The Taoiseach will be here tomorrow. Not wanting to pre-empt his address, he might mention Seanad reform and the extension of the Seanad franchise and any changes to that franchise. I am glad Senator Norris is gone. There are six Members of the Seanad elected from the National University of Ireland, NUI, and Trinity College Dublin, and perhaps we can start there in terms of extending the franchise before looking elsewhere. I am sure Senators will have different viewpoints on that, so I will not stray into that discussion. I did not mean that to be a cheap shot. The issue of extending the Seanad franchise is a bit like Lanigan's ball in that one steps in and one steps out.
It is fortunate that we have been allowed to remain in office.
The Senator's party leader wants to change the Seanad as well.
He does not want to abolish it.
He wants to change the franchise model.
The fact is the Leader's party wanted to abolish this House but it failed.
The Leader is anxious to conclude.
Senator Buttimer was glad to get a seat himself.
We are always glad to be here to represent the people who put us in here.
The Leader should not be side-tracked.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of job creation in rural Ireland and the Border counties with which I agree. I am sure he will join with his constituency colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, in welcoming the fact that last year 210,443 people were employed in IDA Ireland jobs in this country. It is important to note that when the former Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, was in the Department she was clear about creating jobs outside Dublin and in the regions. That is why I think the Senator will be glad to see that since the period from 2008 to 2010, where we lost 35,000 jobs, we have created more jobs now. I am sure he will join with me in welcoming the fact that today we have 11,469 people, an increase of 4%, employed in the Border region. I agree with him that it is important in the Brexit era to promote, sustain and create jobs in the Border region. I also agree with him that proper broadband, WiFi and connectivity is critical when it comes to allowing people to create jobs. Job creation is a challenging task for IDA Ireland and I agree with him that we need to support and sustain IDA Ireland by providing the necessary connectivity and broadband.
In response to Senator Ó Clochartaigh, I have read the remarks the Ombudsman made about direct provision. I am happy to arrange a debate on the matter. I commend Senator Mac Lochlainn on the role he played as Chair of the petitions committee.
I have addressed the comments made by Senator Conway-Walsh in the context of my reply to the queries about the issues of health.
I fully agree with Senator Paul Daly about escalating insurance premia. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, was in the House before Christmas to discuss the matter. It is a source of concern that the cost of insurance premia has gone through the roof which has forced, as the Senator has said, in some cases, local festivals, organisations or sporting clubs to stop or completely cease. The premia hike has also had a huge impact on small and medium-sized enterprises and businesses. I draw the attention of the House to what Pat McDonagh, chief executive officer and owner of Supermacs, has done for his own companies. We must continually consider and address the cost of insurance premia. Equally, we have a highly litigious society where people sue councils and organisations at the drop of a hat. I will arrange for the relevant Minister to return to the House for a debate.
I agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile that justice and truth are important. I support all sides and believe in cross-community support for all who seek justice, truth and answers to any atrocity that has happened in the North of our country. That applies to all sides of our communities in the North of our country.
Rather than divide the House, I ask Senator Humphreys not to push his amendment to the Order of Business thus allowing me to answer Senator Devine's very important matter. I will not be accepting the amendment if his amendment is put to a vote.
Senator Humphreys has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the exclusion of parent representation from the HSE primary care steering group be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Can I seek a point of clarification from the Leader?
Children with complex medical needs is an important matter. There is a Minister, who is scheduled to speak in the House today, available to give a report I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for the Minister to briefly address my matter today when he is in the House. Failing that, I seek a commitment that the Minister will be in here early next week to address this important matter. If the Leader can give me that commitment, I will not press the matter.
What I am committed to doing, a Chathaoirligh, is to get an answer to the situation for Senator Devine. To be fair to her, she rang me this morning about the matter. I want to get her an answer and I endeavoured to get her one prior to the commencement of the Order of Business. I have replied that a steering group has been established. I am not prepared to commit to accepting the motion on the Order Paper. If the Minister for Health comes in, I will ask him, as part of his address, to make reference to the matter but I have no control over that.
The other part of the question asked by Senator Humphreys was failing that, is the Leader prepared to ask the Minister to come here next week to debate the issue?
To be fair to Senator Devine, and I do not want to put words in her mouth, but in her conversation she sought this matter to take place, without debate. I am happy to ask the Minister for an answer to the question posed by Senator Devine because the issues she raised is important. I am not anxious to divide the House because it will not solve the valid issue raised by the Senator..
I did suggest to Senator Devine that perhaps, over the course of this morning, she could submit a Commencement matter for tomorrow where she will get an answer quickly if she is successful in getting it selected, or on Tuesday.
It is too late.
I appreciate the suggestion made by the Leader. First, I want this House to support parents throughout the country.
That is the point.
That is really important. It is a no-brainer.
It is really important that this House does so. Therefore, I would table a motion as opposed to-----
We will deal with one issue at a time. Senator Humphreys has tabled an amendment. Is he pressing his amendment?
Unfortunately, I have to divide the House because I did not get a clarification from the Leader.
That is fine.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Nash, Gerald.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Swanick, Keith.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Daly, Paul.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
For the record, Senator Nash voted in the incorrect position but this has been rectified.
In light of the fact that we just had a vote, I propose that we amend the Order of Business to extend the time for the next item.
Is the Leader proposing that we shall conclude deliberations on the first item of business no later than 2 p.m.?
Is that agreed?
I apologise, what are we agreeing to?
That the statements shall conclude no later than 2 p.m.
In light of the vote on the Order of Business, an extension will allow the groups spokespersons and the Minister to come in-----
I am sure there is a dig in there somewhere.
If the Senator would listen - sometimes it is good to listen - she will discover that I am trying to accommodate Members in order to allow all the group spokespersons and the Minister to contribute.
I did not-----
To give the Minister time to reply, I need to extend the time for the debate as a result of the time we lost taking the vote. That is what I am trying to do.