The Order of Business is No. 1, statement by An Taoiseach, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared and the time allocated to all other Senators is not to exceed four minutes, and at the conclusion of which the remarks by the Leader of the House shall not exceed five minutes. The Taoiseach is to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
The issue of rural broadband is not just about connectivity to the Internet, but about sustaining and maintaining jobs in rural Ireland. Broadband is to the economy today what canals were to the economy in the 1700s, railways were in the 1900s, rural electrification in the 1930s and 1940s and telephone connections with the wider world in the 1970s and 1980s. Now there is another delay in broadband provision. We are aware that this is somehow being spun as a victory for the Government, which is quite an amazing achievement. We hear that it is going to be cheaper, or it is going to be the same cost or it is going to be faster, but we all know these are not the facts. Statistics are pliable but the facts are very stubborn. The facts do not lie.
Ireland is ranked at No. 42 in the global index on broadband availability. High-speed broadband is only available to some 40% of the population. Why are we delaying so much and so badly? In fairness to the Government, one thing it has not been short on when it comes to this matter is announcements, targets and deadlines, all of which the Government has not met. The Minister looked very sheepish yesterday as he announced this, somehow or other, victory. He said that they were now going to be able to roll it out on time. As they have not met any other targets so far, for the Minister to spin this as a victory is quite unbelievable and audacious. The spin unit must be working overtime all the time to pretend.
It is a fact, and we all heard this on morning radio today, that people and business communities in rural Ireland are being affected by their inability to work due to the lack of broadband. There is no shortage of plans or announcements but there is no believable plan. The credibility of the Minister of the Department is an issue when one sees very credible companies withdrawing from the process. Most of this is to do with the process that was put in place by the Minister and the Department. The Minister has to take responsibility. I believe that he needs to give an explanation to the people. Coming into this House from across the way and telling us that he has a new deadline, on top of the other deadlines, is simply not good enough. How are the people in Roscommon, Kerry and Mayo supposed to maintain and sustain jobs when the Government's plans and targets, upon which people are relying to deliver connectivity, are simply not being met?
I wish to raise an issue relating Coillte and its forest-farm partnerships. People who tuned in to "Morning Ireland" today heard a litany of stories and complaints. The programme included a special interview and investigation carried out by George Lee, who is part of RTÉ's news staff. We heard about a range of disappointments for farmers and people involved in the forest-farm partnership scheme who have not received their payments and who have had no communication from Coillte, the State's forestry board.
My concern, which I have raised on a number of occasions in the House, is the issue of Coillte. Coillte is the State forestry company. It is a State company and its shareholding is vested in the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. They have complete and utter control over this State agency. It is important we have a detailed and comprehensive debate about Irish forestry. While Coillte owns a very substantial land bank across the country, it also attempts and promises to work in partnership with small farm holdings and people who wish to get into the forestry sector. A lot of people changed their land over to forestry with expectations in the short term, medium term and long term. There is a long-term gain and it is a long-term enterprise. They have been let down.
The chief executive of Coillte was on RTÉ this morning and explained there were shortcomings, which was a credit to him. He accepted there were shortcomings and that he would attempt to do something. I am renewing my call to the Leader because I have asked him twice before. I would appreciate if Deputy Andrew Doyle, the Minister of State with special responsibility for forestry and horticulture, would come to the House and give us a focused overview of the role of Coillte, particularly dealing with the issue of farm partnerships. It is an important issue going forward and an important issue for us to debate to see if some resolution can be found for the people we heard about this morning on "Morning Ireland".
I will briefly refer to the latest disaster in the roll out of broadband as a result of Eir's withdrawal. It is a disaster but Sinn Féin has been consistent; we warned that the process was flawed from the beginning.
The Senator is delighted.
I am not delighted. It is a disaster for people in rural Ireland. It is a disaster that stems ultimately from an ideological fixation that Fine Gael has with tendering out and privatisation. That is where the flaws are. It is like listening to bald men arguing over a comb when one hears Fianna Fáil - I can say this - raising the issue.
Leave me out of this.
Let us remember it was Fianna Fáil that started this disaster-----
-----by privatising Eircom in 1999. It is pretty cheeky now to say things are not working out because it started this process. Unfortunately Fine Gael continued it. It has been a disaster. People in rural Ireland are at a complete loss with regard to this issue. That is the point. The privatisation model has failed. We want a debate on the matter but we need the Leader's Government to recognise that privatising assets is not the best way forward in every circumstance.
The second issue I want to raise is really serious. The section 39 workers' strike is due on 14 February. Something quite shocking happened yesterday at the health committee. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform refused to turn up to the health committee. We have a strike affecting thousands of workers and thousands of vulnerable service users and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform refused to turn up. Who is running the Government? I demand that the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, comes in here to explain why his Department refused to attend an Oireachtas meeting yesterday. The Department is essential to the solution to this crisis. As things stand, workers will have to go out on strike. The Government has been warned about it for months. We have heard talk and more talk but when it comes down to it, the Department is hiding. It is hiding from workers, from my union, SIPTU, and it is hiding from coming out and explaining where the hell it was yesterday. It is not good enough for a Government Department to hide away from the public and from Oireachtas committees. I would like a clear statement from the Leader condemning that and I am asking for the Minister to come to the House.
I ask that the Minister, Deputy Murphy, attend to explain his position on directly elected mayors for urban areas. Last month in the Dáil, he said there would not be a mayor in situ for Dublin for the 2019 local elections. There is a real urgent question of who speaks for Dublin because Dublin generates €85 billion of our GDP. It has 1.3 million citizens yet the funding for the city is less and less every year. What we need now is a strong vocal voice for Dublin to ensure the investment takes place for the 1.3 million citizens. Dublin has one of the highest property tax rates in the country. I have no problem with the redistribution of some of that property tax to country areas where there is not the tax base. There is now a real need for that investment. Our footpaths are decaying and our public roads are in a dreadful condition. One probably cannot drive from here to Ballsbridge without destroying one's tyres on the main road. One cannot get comfortably from Swords to Dublin. There is no rail link. One cannot travel from Tallaght to Swords without coming through the city centre. The urban centres are not connected. There is a need for a plan for our city.
If we want to give quality of life to the 1.3 million citizens, the basic need for a major city is investment and its long-term sustainability. That is just not happening. There is a vested interest by the Government in a lack of planned investment in our capital city. It has been quite noticeable in the past two years. I would like the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to come in at the earliest possible time to debate the issue mainly for our urban areas. There has been a lack of concentration on maintaining the sustainability of our urban areas. At the earliest time, I would like to see the Minister, Deputy Murphy, address the House on the matter.
I will raise two issues with the Leader of the House. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to the House to debate the fair deal scheme for nursing homes in one particular context? People who live along the Border with Northern Ireland, right across Donegal, Sligo, Cavan-Monaghan and into Louth, who are very close to the Border are not able to access the fair deal scheme if they go into a nursing home in Northern Ireland. Some of the nursing homes in Northern Ireland are nearer. Anecdotally, I gather they are cheaper but they are also nearer, which is the real issue, and they are easier for families to access. There should be flexibility here and the fair deal scheme should be administered where there is a valid reason for somebody to go into Northern Ireland to a nursing home. I ask the Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health and perhaps we can have it properly debated in the House.
I will turn to the Jeremiahs today. Senator Daly and my colleague, Senator Gavan, are like Jeremiah when it comes to broadband. I reassure them that Eir is committed to 300,000 installations in homes and premises around the country. It will continue. It is honouring the commitment to the 300,000 installations.
I presume the Senator is referring to the prophet.
They are expecting bad tidings.
I thought we were careful not to mention names.
They are unwarranted ill-tidings. It is Jeremiah the prophet. The very important point is that 300,000 homes will get broadband as per the contract with Eir, which stands.
In the next century.
No, immediately, because it is in process as we speak. It will actually get quicker because Enet is committed to the process now. Senator Daly made the point it could get dearer but it will not. The costings are already agreed at initial tendering stage. So we will get the broadband delivered. We will be on target. When we came into government 50% of homes were connected. It is now at 71% and will be 77% by the end of the year. It is a very good success story. I would like Senator Gavan and Senator Daly not to be in this depressed state of foreboding. They should lift their spirits and look forward to broadband being in every home in the country.
The Senator has obviated the need for the Leader to respond on that matter.
Will the Leader request that my colleague from the Roscommon-Galway constituency, the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, come into the House to explain the broadband crisis as Eir abandons rural broadband roll out? It is an awful indictment of this Government that this is happening. It is an absolute disgrace. I am involved in rural Ireland and when one is trying to attract tourists to rural areas, broadband is absolutely vital.
It is the tool in that one orders everything online. Last night I was at the Gaiety Theatre to see "Sive", a wonderful production, by the way, which I recommend to Members. Druid Theatre is from Galway and Ms Hynes is from Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. It is a great production. In fact, President Michael D. Higgins was there last night too, just to give a little plug for the Gaiety. I highly recommend it. Tommy Tiernan was superb - I think he is a Monaghan man, is he?
He is from Meath.
We are getting a bit obiter dictum.
They would be delighted to have you there, a Cathaoirleach.
We were promised this would connect 540,000 homes. What is happening? Nil. It is absolutely impossible to get broadband in our area. We tried to get a direct line and we are now relying on satellite broadcasting, which is irregular and slow. It is a disaster. I never heard such hype over anything in the world. They said it would be like the ESB and they were going to have power in every house within a year. There were wires being laid here, there and everywhere. They are being laid nowhere.
As a former Minister of State with responsibility for post and telegraphs in the 1980s, I brought telephones all over Ireland at the time-----
In the boot of the car.
-----particularly in my own constituency of Roscommon-Leitrim.
God bless Sean Doherty.
One of the highlights at that time was telephone kiosks, which were a wonderful addition to rural Ireland. When people did not have phones or could not afford them, we put a telephone kiosk in most villages, which was a great boost.
It is an indictment of the Government. I want the Minister to come to the House. I am a member of the communications committee. We were spun a whole lot of stories about what was happening with this wonderful idea. If someone spins enough and has €5 million to spin the stories, the stories will be spun and the journalists generally take them up, hook, line and sinker. The epitaph for the Government is that it could not organise a beep, beep in a brewery.
Fianna Fáil was in government for 14 years.
I do not know whether we are going from the ridiculous to the sublime or the sublime to the ridiculous. The Minister of State, Deputy English, gave a commitment yesterday that he would be happy to come to the House to deal with the disability aspects of Rebuilding Ireland. Can we formally invite him to do so, given he has stated his willingness to do this? In that regard, can we have a report from his Department setting out the progress being made on the motion on which this House unanimously agreed in July 2017 regarding housing for people with disabilities? That would be the prelude to a useful and informative debate here in the House.
Related to that, it is important and only right for me to wholeheartedly welcome the Government decision to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this coming March. I do not anticipate any difficulties with support from the Dáil to facilitate this as all parties and entities have been calling for this for some time. While there have been delays and missed timelines, I am only stating that this morning to make a point about the future, namely, there is a strong expectation that the Government will crack on with implementation across all the domains, given legislation is required in areas like housing, education, employment, access, transport, jobs and income supports. The coming budget should be a very strong marker that the Government is moving with intent in this direction. The Taoiseach and his Department must be the drivers of integrated and complementary action across the whole system.
On a final point, when the Government got stuck into the issue of unemployment, the Action Plan for Jobs was driven night, noon and morning from the centre of Government and from the Taoiseach. Every Department was being whipped on it and was being asked what was happening and how was it removing the blockages. That has been a success because it was a whole-of-Government project and it had that prioritisation. That is exactly what is needed to move this project and to get the best results from it. That is what I am asking the Taoiseach to do. Ireland can become the front runner, and I look forward to that. We were being slagged because we were the last in Europe but we can push ourselves forward fairly smartly with such an approach.
I am acutely aware there are many pressing issues in our country that need to be discussed, addressed, planned for and legislated for. Today, I want to use the opportunity on the Order of Business to highlight reform of the Seanad and the imperative that we get to grips with reform, given Members of this Seanad have been in this House for almost two years. Sinn Féin, along with all the other groupings, has submitted its suggestions and observations on how to make the Seanad more democratic and relevant. I would like to take this opportunity to specifically talk about-----
They tried to get rid of the Seanad.
Allow Senator Devine to continue.
I wish to talk about respect. Respect is at times absent and, reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that it is more so towards women. I am no wilting violet and everything I do to deliver in this Chamber comes with a passion for, a recognition of and support for co-operation to cure the ills of this country. It is wholly inappropriate for me and my sisters in this Chamber to be denigrated and roared at in hissy fits.
I ask the Leader, in light of the centenary of women's suffrage, to have a respectful, compassionate and inclusive debate on this essential part of Seanad reform - respect - and to get our House in order.
I dtosach báire, Lá Fhéile Bríde faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise do na Seanadóirí ar fad, go háirithe na mná. I wish all a happy St. Brigid's day, seeing as we are on a bit of a biblical vibe with Senator O'Reilly. I am afraid St. Jude is the saint who jumps to mind when we look at the broadband scenario, rather than any Jeremiah.
No, we will stick to Jeremiah.
I urge Senator O'Reilly to get down on his knees this evening for all of us living in rural Ireland.
"Anois teacht an Earraigh".
Sin é go díreach, "beidh an lá ag dul chun shíneadh". It is concerning. A debate needs to be had at this stage around who controls the networking of the broadband infrastructure because I think the sale of that infrastructure was a calamity. Looking forward, the State needs a very long-term approach to re-acquiring that infrastructure so we do not find ourselves in this debacle year after year.
Another example of this has been the near-privatisation of water. I raised again in recent times the issues regarding a family in Connemara whose water supply was cut off for days. Those problems have not been addressed and the family has been getting tanks of water sporadically. Another case close by has come to hand where a couple moved into a house in Connemara in July of last year. They paid a fee of €2,650 to be connected by Irish Water to the water system but still have not been connected. They have been contacting Irish Water and there is no response or any reasoning as to why they would not be connected to the water supply. People are finding it impossible to get straight answers from Irish Water. The lack of transparency and accountability is incredibly frustrating for people. We have asked for the clinics to be resumed but I think there is a need for a debate with the Minister who is responsible for Irish Water or is there a Minister responsible now that it has been set up as a separate entity? That whole issue of accountability around Irish Water is incredibly important.
I also want to raise the issue of the Time 4 Us play centre in Galway, which was set up as a pilot project some ten years ago. It is a play centre for families where one of the parents does not live in the family home and these are referred to as non-resident parents. It provides a safe, neutral venue where non-resident parents can spend time with their children in a fun-filled, relaxed environment. It is very important initiative. It is being used by the Courts Service, in particular for families where there are irreconcilable differences among the parents.
The issue is not necessarily around money and is actually around governance.
Staff from Tusla would have been involved in this project from the get-go but due to new guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, etc., they are no longer allowed to be involved. The project is fantastic and the money is available but it needs to be mainstreamed and rolled out across the country. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in respect of this matter and to arrange a debate on these types of services for young people.
I take this opportunity to congratulate our colleague, Senator O'Reilly, on his election as a vice president of the Council of Europe. The Senator is the first Irish person to hold the position since former Deputy, Frank Fahey. It is a great honour for the Senator and I wish him well. I know that he will do this country proud in representing us at the Council.
I can confirm that.
If Senator O'Reilly needs any advice, a former vice president of the liberals and democrats and a life member of the Council, namely, Senator Leyden, is available to provide it.
Senator O'Reilly will be badly stuck if he needs to call on Senator Leyden.
I miss Senator O'Reilly already.
Perhaps Senator Wilson wants to accompany him.
The prophet Jeremiah and Judas have been mentioned. I would like to refer to Job.
Was it not St. Jude?
One can say Job or St. Jude, as Senator Buttimer can attest. The saint in question is the patron saint of hopeless cases. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the announcement by Eir yesterday casts the 500,000 people living in rural Ireland who await broadband, which is a service that has been repeatedly promised, into a state of crisis. Senator Humphreys referred to the fact that some poor people in south Dublin may have to bypass a pothole or two. It was during his party's reign in government, along with the Fine Gael Party, that the promised broadband came into being. Pat Rabbitte and various other individuals were Ministers at the time.
That is right
I do not blame anybody who feels that broadband is never going to be rolled out because they have waited for far too long. If Senator Humphreys thinks that the people of Dublin are being disenfranchised by having a pothole or two, then I invite him to visit Cavan and other rural parts of Ireland so that I can show him exactly what was achieved during his time in government, when the grant for rural roads was cut. That is another indictment of the Labour Party and, to a lesser extent, Fine Gael. The commitment relating to the broadband, which was promised but which has never materialised, was also made when Senator Humphreys was in government.
I will not mention that Fianna Fáil bankrupted the country.
It is important to clarify the record. I find myself in agreement with Senator Gavan that Eircom should never have been sold off. It was a great mistake to do so. I firmly believe that national infrastructure should be kept in the ownership of the State.
The announcement yesterday is what happens when national infrastructure is sold to the private sector.
Senator Lombard is next. I suggest that we return to discussing the Order of Business. I am worried that this might develop into a pastoral service.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his introduction. Several issues have been raised by previous speakers. I will focus on the broadband issue which has been raised by many Senators and which is very important for rural Ireland. Yesterday's announcement was very unfortunate whereby two tenders were reduced to just one. Originally, there were three tenders but now we have only one. Broadband and roads are two of the biggest issues for rural Ireland. There is a disconnect at the moment. I equate the lack of broadband with the electrification scheme introduced in the 1950s and 1960s. Broadband has been promised to be delivered since 2012. Broadband services need to be up and running this year. Yesterday, the Minister said that he hopes a contract will be signed next September and that works will begin by the end of the year. We have been given deadlines and guidelines, but has any work been done on the ground? Broadband must be rolled out sooner rather than later.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come before the House to debate the issue of broadband. It needs to be addressed one way or another. If the matter cannot be addressed, then we need to hear plan B. We originally had three tenders but that has gradually been reduced to just one. What is plan B if the remaining tender is withdrawn?
I would like to be associated with the words expressed by Senator Wilson and congratulate Senator Joe O'Reilly on his appointment. From Cavan to the heart of Europe, I know he will excel in his role and wish him well.
I call on the Leader to arrange an early debate on broadband. This is not a new issue but it is one which gives rise to frustration. Since I came into this House in 2007, we have discussed the roll-out and availability of broadband. So far, that has not happened. The urban centres and populated areas have been provided with broadband but rural Ireland has not. A lack of broadband in rural Ireland has detrimental effects. I know that young college students from my county, Donegal, do not travel home at weekends because they cannot study due to a lack of broadband in rural parts of the county.
This morning, the Minister said that over 80 of the leading experts on broadband provision in Europe are working within his Department on the contract. Eir was one of the bidders but it pulled out because the contract is too complicated and we have been left with just one bidder. We have a monopoly situation and the final bidder can seek whatever price it wishes to be paid to provide the service. Such a situation is unacceptable, ineffective and inefficient. The State is working on the contract but I am not sure that it is best placed to do so. The taxpayer may be left to carry the can. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter as soon as possible. Obviously, the wheels have come off the wagon inside the Department. The officials either have gone with a process that is too complicated and cumbersome or Eir pulled out for commercial reasons. However, we can only speculate because we do not have the information. The Minister has an obligation to come to the House and answer our questions. This could turn into a national scandal of unprecedented proportions unless we deal with it effectively. We are not looking for state-of-the-art, world-class broadband in very remote rural homes. We are looking for a service. We do not have to be the world leader in providing broadband. There is no broadband service in certain parts of the country yet there has been talk about a service that is equivalent to that provided in the centre of New York. People must get real. Sometimes we over complicate things and I think that is what has happened in respect of the contract.
Finally, I call Senator Mulherin.
I wish to comment on the national broadband plan. Without doubt, yesterday represents a very significant development whereby Eir withdrew from the tender process. It is imperative that the Minister comes to the House to debate the matter. Such a debate must be one that constitutes more than a wringing of hands on the part of the Opposition - in delight, I might add.
Broadband is, as many previous speakers indicate, a very serious issue for rural Ireland. As the economy expands, as we try to create jobs and even socially, we are part of a global village. One is really outside the loop if there is no access to high-speed broadband, which is the standard for which we must continue to strive. It is incorrect to say that broadband was promised but has not been delivered. Each week, 300 farms in rural Ireland get access to high-speed broadband. When this Government took power, only 50% of households and premises had broadband. The figure has increased to 71%. I hope it will be 77% by the end of the year as Eir continues to roll out the contract it signed with the Government.
Nonetheless, I am very ambitious for the area I come from, which is a highly rural area. The people there need broadband. That is the bottom line. We need assurances from the Minister as to how this will proceed. There are still commitments on this, namely, that we should and ought to have broadband and I am not giving up on those. There is a will across the House and all sectors that it should happen. We are attempting to roll out broadband to more than 90% of premises within the timeframe we are talking about. It is pretty much unprecedented for a state to intervene in this way in the rolling out of broadband. We have positioned ourselves as a small open economy and broadband is essential in that context in terms of the beginning, middle and end. The Minister needs to come into the House as soon as possible. He will be anxious to provide clarity, give assurance and to tell us what is the way forward.
I join in the congratulations extended to our colleague and friend, Senator Joe O'Reilly, and his elevation to the position of vice president of the Council of Europe. He will bring a wonderful demeanour, huge expertise and a very high calibre to that role. We wish him every success. It is a tremendous honour for him, his family, for Cavan and for the Oireachtas that he has been elected to that position. Congratulations to him.
I thank the 13 Members of the House for the their contributions on the Order of Business. Nine members, Senators Mark Daly, Gavan, Joe O'Reilly, Leyden, Ó Clochartaigh, Wilson, Lombard, Mulherin and Ó Domhnaill raised issues almost stretching from the Old Testament to the New Testament about the need for broadband and it is perhaps apt on Lá Fhéile Bhríde, on the first day of spring which is a day of hope and renewal, that we commit, as the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has done, to the provision of broadband. We would all agree that we have been waiting far too long for broadband but as Senator Mulherin rightly said, which has been lost by some Members opposite, the provision of high speed broadband increased from 51%, 19 months ago, to 71% and to 77% by the end of the year in many parts of the country. As Senator Mulherin said, 300 farms per week are receiving high speed broadband. A point on which I agree completely with Senator Gavan is that we sold off Eircom on day 1 and it has been asset stripped since then. Therein lies part of the problem in terms of the issue we face today. I am glad Senator Wilson has belatedly come to the table to recognise the importance of what we have just said.
I was always of that opinion.
Good. I want to make this clear, no other country in the world is trying to do what we are trying to achieve, namely, to connect every house and business in the country to high speed broadband. The aim and aspiration is still to have 90% connectivity. I know Senator Leyden brought telephones around the country when he was Minister of State but we cannot do that in this case. This is a different era, different timeframe and different type of technology.
There were wires then.
It is important we commit to this. The Minister and the Government are very much of that view. I hear people criticise the role of the Government in this matter, but let us reflect on what the Government did.
To be fair to the former Ministers, Pat Rabbitte and Alex White, and other Ministers who served in the previous Government and in this Government, we set up a national broadband procurement policy. It is a process. If there was political interference in that process, every one of the Members would have been roaring and shouting this morning about political involvement. The question that must be asked is why Eir opted out at the 11th hour. Has none of the Members asked that question?
Because it got 300,000 cherry-picked households.
There you go. It did. There was an engagement with the bidders-----
Some 400,000 households were ruled out.
The Senator is the best fellow I know for being right about everything and wrong about nothing.
I thank the Leader for admitting that. I am very grateful to him for that.
The Senator is wrong about everything.
It is very gracious of the Leader to be so honest.
That means there are two of you.
I ask Members to respect the Chair.
A independent process was put in place.
It did not fail. There is one bidder left who is committed.
That would be a monopoly.
It depends on the Leader's definition of success.
Senator Ó Domhnaill knows well that there is no monopoly. Senator O'Reilly who is a member of the communications committee, as is Senator Leyden, will tell Senator Ó Domhnaill what transpired with Eir.
We will be meeting the Minister next Thursday.
The pricing was done already.
The bottom line is the Government is committed. We have one bidder left and despite Senator Daly's cynicism, it may well be of benefit to the House and we may have connectivity quicker.
As the Minister, Deputy Naughten, said, the task is now to let us get the job done.
A monopoly has never benefited the customer so I am not sure how this one will bring a benefit to the customer.
I am confident that we will get it done. I am very happy to facilitate the debate but I would again ask Senator Daly, who came back to us, to listen to what his learned colleague, Senator Wilson, said. We should never have sold off Eircom, which his party did, and the consequence of that is that it was asset-stripped from then. That is where we are at today in part. The question that must be asked of Eir is: Why?
The Deputy's party has been in government for seven years and he is blaming this on Eircom.
At least our party in government is ambitious for our people.
There are 400,000 customers-----
Some 77% of our people have connectivity.
The Government said that it was not going to pay for those people and then the Leader is wondering why-----
Whatever about the roll-out of the broadband today, could the Leader roll on in order that we can make progress?
I will roll on. Some 77% of our people will have broadband connectivity by the end of the year. That is not a bad achievement and there has been a 19% increase in connectivity since the Minister, Deputy Naughten, came into office.
Senator Boyhan has requested a debate on Coillte and I would be very happy to facilitate that. The chief executive officer of Coillte, Mr. Gerard Murphy, was interviewed on "Morning Ireland" this morning. He is committed to working to regain the trust of landowners, to issuing an annual statement and he agrees there is a need for transparency and proper communications. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is happy to come to the House in that regard.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of section 39 agency workers. I agree with him that there is a pay differential with respect to those workers which needs to be addressed. That is why the Minister for Health, together with the HSE, has set up a process to examine that and they will come back with a review. That process must examine the case of the workers and it must be evidence based. I agree completely with the Senator. We have a wonderful institution called Marymount in Cork and the workers there are treated different from the workers in the HSE. Unfortunately, the problem is that they are not designated as public servants, as the Senator will know. Therefore, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, legislation-----
They are going on strike.
I am well aware of that. I have met these workers and spoken to them, as has the Senator.
What about the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform?
If I can answer the issue the Senator raised, the funding position of section 39 organisations is that they get a grant, a service level agreement. There is an obligation on all Departments to engage with Oireachtas committees. In this case, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform cited that the relevant Department was the Department of Health, but it would be helpful it there was a collective will across Departments. People should not use the issue of section 39 agency workers as a political football. I would make that general comment.
Senator O'Reilly referenced the fair deal system and raised a specific issue about it and I would be very happy to arrange for a debate on that matter.
Senator Humphreys called for a debate on directly elected mayors in local government and I would be happy to facilitate that. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, are committed to the development of greater accountability and democracy in local authorities. The Senator raised some interesting points about Dublin but, as he will know, Dublin is not the world. There are many parts of the country as equally important as Dublin.
Such as Cork.
I would be happy to have that debate with him.
I did not get all of Senator Leyden's contribution on the Druid production but I wish that production well. The Senator is certainly a good advertisement for being on stage with the actors in that production.
I congratulate Senator Dolan on his advocacy for and work on seeking the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We adjourned a debate yesterday in order that we could have a further debate on housing and I would be happy to include the disability aspects in such a debate.
I agree with Senator Devine that we must have respect on all sides of this House. It works both ways, as she will know. I am very happy as the only male Leader of the House to work with all my women colleagues at meetings every week. I would be very happy to have that debate.
Show us that.
The Taoiseach will be here.
It is important.
It is very important and it works both ways. What we need to have are debates on what is factual and what is not factual in terms of what people bring into the House as part of their contributions. If that is the point the Senator is referring to, and I am not sure it is, that is okay. I would be happy to meet her any time to discuss Seanad reform.
No. The Seanad needs to meet to consider overall reform.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of water privatisation. I do not believe we have privatised water but I would be happy to-----
We are not far off it.
The Oireachtas has made the position quite clear. I have asked Irish Water to have the clinics resumed.
We will have the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House for a debate on water.
Senator Wilson will be glad to join us in congratulating Senator O'Reilly on seeing the road grant for Cavan increased by 18%.
From a very low base.
I know they work well together in Cavan. The important point, as the Senator indicated, is that it is not about St. Jude or St. Jeremiah. It is about all of us working to advance our own local areas.
I have asked for the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to come to the House to discuss the issue of Coillte. I will ask for the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to address the issue of broadband. It is a very serious issue which many Members have raised this morning. I would be happy to have that debate at the earliest convenience.
I also offer my congratulations to Senator O'Reilly. I am sure he will do a great job and it is an honour not alone for himself and his family, but also for this Chamber that he has achieved that great position.
We have a very important visit this evening from our Taoiseach. I ask the Leader to propose the suspension of the House until 2.30 p.m.
I ask the Cathaoirleach to give my apologies.