The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the Fifth Report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Telecommunications Services (Ducting and Cables) Bill 2018 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 3 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 4, Private Members' business, the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Dáil] – Committee Stage to be taken at 5 p.m., to be adjourned after two hours if not previously concluded and No. 5, statements on job losses at Kerry Foods, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan to be taken on conclusion of No. 4 and to conclude after 40 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes each, time can be shared and the Minister is to be given no less than three minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
I wish everyone a happy St. Valentine's Day. Holidays like this tend to make those who are alone feel a little more isolated and vulnerable. I commend Senator Swanick's call to set up a task force on loneliness and encourage all Members of this House to call on elderly neighbours or those living alone to wish them a happy St. Valentine's Day. Some people receive very little communication and a small gesture like this can go a very long way.
Many of us have raised the issue of divestment from church-run schools to Educate Together schools. This affects the Canal Way Educate Together school in Basin Lane. I have raised this in correspondence with the Minister for Education and Skills but no satisfactory solution has been reached. The school was established as a two-stream school and has been located in its current premises since 2014. Due to its success, there is an increased demand for places and the waiting lists are very long. Unfortunately, this demand has resulted in a severe accommodation problem. As a result, the school has been forced to offer only a single stream to new junior infants for the coming intake in 2018 and could have no space for a junior infants class in 2019. There is a clear and desperate need for further classrooms to be installed to adequately accommodate the needs of the local community and those of the parents who wish to send their children to these schools.
It has been brought to my attention that in this school, there is no special education teaching centre and it is reported that the school has only half the required number of toilets to meet the needs of the students. The lease on the school is so short that investment is difficult. This stems from a failure in the divestment process. Caveats placed on divested schools have been raised in this House. The Department of Education and Skills needs to examine Educate Together schools and the divestment process and act pragmatically to ensure that parents who wish to send their children to particular schools are allowed to do so, that these schools are facilitated and children are accommodated. We need to do this urgently because parents are waiting for places for their children in 2019 and they do not know if there will be room in certain schools.
Today, very important statements on Brexit are being made in the UK and in Europe. An independent study, published today by Copenhagen Economics, examined the impact of Brexit on Ireland. It finds that our economy will grow by 7% less than it would without Brexit in the worst-case scenario and by 2.8% less in the best-case scenario. We have already seen the consequences of Brexit. Senator Gallagher successfully amended the Order of Business due to the possible closure of a Kerry Foods plant in County Monaghan. Worryingly, the report also said that Brexit will have a negative impact on Irish wages for all skills groups. One scenario shows that real wages will be 8.7% below the 2030 non-Brexit scenario.
I welcome the new Brexit website, although it is quite late. I would like to see proper policy decisions for small and medium sized enterprises, SMEs and larger enterprises. I have a small business in Crumlin and have had no interaction with the Government on how to Brexit-proof my business. The Government needs to make practical efforts and policy changes to mitigate the possible losses that will accrue when Brexit goes ahead.
It is my understanding that the national planning framework must be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. There are differing views on this and I have spoken to several people about it. The matter was raised this morning at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. We were told that both Houses are required to approve this plan. This afternoon we will debate the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which refers to the national planning framework and national planning regulation among other issues. It is important to get clarity on that. The Government has announced that it will launch this national plan in Sligo of all places. Hopefully there will be great news for Sligo.
It is a lovely part of the country.
That is right. It will be launched on Friday yet it has not been approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am not critical of the national planning framework. I support it. There is a lot of good in it, but I ask the Leader to engage with the Minister who is coming into the House to deal with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill later this afternoon. At the outset we might have a brief statement on the position from the Minister. Is there a requirement to place this plan before both Houses of the Oireachtas? We should not take the Members of the Oireachtas for granted. If that is the case, we need to do something about it but in the interest of clarity, I ask the Leader to organise for the Minister to make an opening statement on this particular matter when he comes to the House this afternoon.
I raise the issue of the extraordinary statement on housing by the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, yesterday. I ask that the Minister would come into the House to allow us have a further debate on that. The Minister of State stated: "I know everybody always quotes the high-cost areas, but there are other places that are available for rent for a fraction of what's being quoted..." Obviously, he has some secret information of which the rest of us are not aware. We should invite the Minister of State to the House so that he can tell us where those fractional rents are for the people in Dublin, Limerick and Cork because it is clear that the housing strategy being pursued by the Leader's Government is failing badly. In Limerick, we had 15% rent hikes in the past year. I remind the Leader that when Sinn Féin brought forward proposals to contain rents, they were rejected by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. As the Leader knows, Fianna Fáil solutions involve showering builders and developers with even more tax cuts. Basically, it is arguing for a bigger and better Galway tent.
This is a very serious issue and I will give the Leader an example of its seriousness. A woman aged 75 living on the Ennis Road came into our clinic in Limerick and explained that her landlord had put the rent up from €600 to €900. At the age of 75, that lady is now facing being made homeless. The Leader's Government had ample opportunity to tackle the outrageous increases in rents and it failed because Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are part of a landlord coalition. That is not funny. Does the Leader think that 75 year old woman is laughing?
Deputy Gavan is funny.
I might bring him down to Limerick to introduce him to her.
He makes one-dimensional speeches all the time.
Whenever we discuss rents in this House, what we have is a series of accidental landlords who pop up and tell us how difficult it is to be a landlord. There is no mention of the people being exploited. There has been a 15% increase in rents in Limerick, and what has the Government done? It has sat on its hands and done nothing about it. It has failed people across this country. I will leave it at that.
I wish to raise two issues to do with Limerick, but possibly more. They are different issues. First, I congratulate the four students from Scoil Ide who won the Intel Mini Scientist Competition. They were up against 145 schools and more than 8,000 students. In terms of education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, subjects are always being promoted. That was highlighted in those students' project, which was called RoboBall. It was humans versus the computer, but they coded the entire programme themselves.
It is a very positive development that the STEM subjects are being highlighted at primary school level.
On a different note, I had the pleasure of visiting Troy Studios in Limerick last Monday along with some of my colleagues where "Nightflyers", which will be released on Netflix in the summer, is being filmed. It is a very good news story in that more than 400 people are employed in Troy Studios. It is an up and coming film studio. It was pointed out to us that the height of the ceiling allows them to higher and lower the stage and the cameras. They sometimes have cameras that have to come in overhead. It is conducive, therefore, to making films such as this one. It was very interesting to see the way the set is put together because when one is looking at something that is supposed to be in the future, and it is a science-based film, it is as if the corridors extend for miles yet they are very short. It is amazing what they can do with imagery and special effects. I congratulate all those involved because it has given local employment to dressmakers, painters, carpenters and students, which is very much welcomed.
I wish to raise the topic of the charity sector. We saw the alarming situation in Oxfam UK where the chief of operations in Haiti, Ronald Van Hauwermeiren, was relocated to Bangladesh after the natural disaster for admitting to having prostitutes in an Oxfam sponsored home in Haiti. That is a violation that occurs every day of the week but in the aftermath of a disaster, it is totally disgraceful. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House soon to discuss the charity sector in Ireland and to ensure that the charities regulator has adequate resources to combat any activity that may be happening in our charity sector. I understand Oxfam Ireland has distanced itself completely from the activities of this gentleman who used to work for Oxfam UK. He has been moved on to another aid agency in Bangladesh. He was not sacked. He should have been sacked but to protect the reputation of the charity, his job was protected in that he was moved on to a different agency, which is disgraceful. I want to know if our charities regulator has the powers it needs to combat such activity? Are we depending on whistleblowers or undercover reporters to uncover such activity? I would like to Leader to facilitate a debate on this matter and invite the Minister to the House.
I add my support for comments made yesterday by Senators from across the House regarding female genital mutilation. I condemn in the strongest terms the comments of Dr. Selim from the Castleknock Muslim centre. Female genital mutilation is inhumane and barbaric. It is butchery that occurs every day of the week and there is no place in modern day medicine or society for such activity. I want to put on the record of the House that I totally condemn his statement on this and support the comments made by fellow Senators in the House yesterday.
I congratulate PDFORRA on its successful case where the European Committee on Social Rights has upheld the entitlement of members of the Defence Forces to collective bargaining. For some time now the representative bodies have been advising that while side deals are done by firemen, nurses, teachers and various other groups, they have been prevented from doing this so it is my hope that the Minister will embrace this recommendation and allow them full access to collective bargaining.
On a separate issue, the Leader and, in particular, Senator McFadden, were extremely supportive of the Defence Forces in terms of the Jadotville medals. I acknowledge in particular the work of Senator McFadden who engaged with me constantly prior to the presentation of the medals. Her affiliation to the Custume Barracks soldiers is something to be commended but now that we have gone this far, can we go the rest of the journey? There was an issue in Cork, the Leader's constituency, from May 1962 where, in a naval exercise, a depth charge blew up prematurely on the LE Cliona, causing severe injuries to four members of that crew. We have recognised the crew with a commendation but we have not recognised them with a medal.
We also have the ridiculous situation of a soldier who left the Defence Forces in December 2015, having served 44 years, and a recruit who joined in January of 2016. The man with 44 years service did not get a 1916 medal but the recruit got one. We are now finding those medals for sale on e-Bay. That is a disgrace.
We should recognise those who served on our Border over 40 years of the Troubles with some form of decoration or medal.
In case anybody thinks I am vying for such an award, I would not qualify because I served on the Border for just two days.
The Senator would qualify.
Maybe he would qualify for a little medal.
British soldiers qualify for the General Service Medal if they spent three weeks in Northern Ireland. Irish soldiers who served for 40 years do not qualify for certain medals. Perhaps we could have a discussion on this matter someday, at the Leader's leisure.
The Senator qualifies to take his seat.
I would like to follow up on what I said here last week about the need for reusable coffee cups. I should have asked the Leader to write to the catering services in Leinster House. When I was in a Butlers coffee shop recently, I was delighted to see that a customer can receive a free coffee when he or she buys a reusable coffee cup. I think that is very positive. The Leader could suggest Butlers to the catering services as a source for these cups.
It is great that there is a renewed emphasis on encouraging people to stop smoking. Today is Ash Wednesday, a day on which we traditionally highlight the need for people to protect their health by giving up smoking. Much has been done in this country. To his eternal credit, Deputy Micheál Martin introduced the smoking ban in pubs, which was revolutionary at the time. Our colleague, Senator Reilly, accepted a Private Members' Bill that banned smoking in cars when young children are present. I think we should go a step further by banning smoking at bus stops, outside railway stations and within a certain distance of the front gates of schools, community centres and youth clubs. Vulnerable people and others should not have to contend with cigarette smoke when walking out the gates of public buildings. No parent with a child should have to pass a group of people smoking when walking out the gate of the school. I am seriously considering introducing a Private Members' Bill that would ban smoking within a certain distance of schools, bus stops, hospitals and other community and voluntary facilities. We have achieved a lot through the introduction of no-smoking zones, but we still have some distance to go. I am delighted to inform the House of this proposal on Ash Wednesday.
I wish the Cathaoirleach and all Senators a happy St. Valentine's Day. On that note, I ask Senators to support the people of Waterford in their request for 24-7 heart care. Last Saturday, more than 2,000 people walked on the streets of Waterford to demonstrate once again their absolute desire, request and hearty need for 24-7 cardiac care in Waterford. The Herity report has been completely dismissed - it is a fudge - because the time it takes to travel from Waterford to Cork is much more than 90 minutes. I would like to mention something interesting that I discovered at a recent meeting. When we bring a car for its NCT, the diagnostics sometimes show that there are several problems with the vehicle. That is what is happening in Waterford. While we welcome the mobile catheterisation lab, all it provides are the diagnostics.
When people leave the catheterisation lab after being told they have multiple heart problems, they are stuck on a waiting list. There is no modular lab. I ask the Government to provide a modular lab at University Hospital Waterford, in addition to the mobile lab, to deal with these problems. This would ensure people are not sent out into the uncertainty of being left on waiting lists without knowing when their hearts will be treated. This could happen today. Today, I will be asking the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to do whatever he can to secure not only a second catheterisation lab but also decent and proper care in Waterford. On St. Valentine's Day, I ask the Minister and all Senators to have a heart for Waterford.
Hear, hear. Well said.
Hear, hear. Poor Waterford.
The news coming from Belfast is very depressing. It does not look like a deal will be done to reopen Stormont. It is quite obvious that a deal on an Irish language Act is effectively impossible. I suggest that we now have to look at other aspects of the matter. I remember moments in Irish history, such as the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the visit of the Queen to the Republic and the visit of the President to the United Kingdom. We need another such moment now and, in that context, I suggest we need to look at the east-west relationship. It is obvious that the two main parties in Northern Ireland are not going to reach a deal to restore the institutions at Stormont. I would like to propose five solutions. First, two seats are available in the Seanad. There should be a unionist person sitting in the House. I think that would send out a signal of inclusion. Second, a unionist MP has never appeared before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which has been sitting since 2007.
I am a unionist.
Nationalist MPs from Sinn Féin and the SDLP have done so. I think that sends out another signal. Third, there really should be an aspect of the Republic of Ireland looking at associations with the Commonwealth of Nations. This would send out a signal that we mean business. If we want to have an all-Ireland soccer team, we should be able to compromise in these situations. Fourth, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly has provided huge opportunities to parliamentarians from Britain and Ireland and the North-South Interparliamentary Association has been meeting since October 2012. It has gone under the radar and unannounced that MLAs from the DUP have been sitting in the Seanad Chamber for the past five years. We have sat in Stormont. We meet every six months. We need to look at enhancing all of these good and positive things. Perhaps they have been done under the radar because it was politically correct to do so. We need to send out a signal that we have met and we will meet. Fifth, we must look at the east-west relationship. We must set up an Oireachtas-Westminster group, along the lines of the North-South Interparliamentary Association, to try to break this logjam. It will not be simple to break the logjam in Northern Ireland. I believe a new east-west committee between Westminster and the Oireachtas is needed to break the logjam.
When I raised yesterday the fact that five Educate Together schools have been told that their enrolment for September is being curtailed - each of them is being allowed to take in just 13 students - I was advised by the Leader to submit a Commencement debate request. I have done that and I hope the debate in question will take place tomorrow. I would like the Minister to come to this House to discuss the issue of multidenominational education in the context of three campaigns across the country that are looking for Educate Together status at second level. The campaign in Galway is being assisted by Councillor Niall McNelis and the campaign in south Kildare is being assisted by Councillor Mark Wall. The third campaign is in Dublin 13, which is my own part of the world. Parents feel very strongly about the continuum of education under this model of patronage. It would be good to have a debate in this House on multidenominational education in its totality, and Educate Together in particular.
Senator Feighan has made a solid suggestion in relation to the political impasse in Northern Ireland. Given that there are two vacant seats in this House, we could ask the Government to seek political agreement across all parties in the Oireachtas for the allocation of each of those seats, respectively to an individual from the unionist tradition and an individual from the nationalist tradition in Northern Ireland. I suggest that such a positive move would represent an imaginative response to the current impasse from this Chamber.
The nationalist position is represented by Sinn Féin.
I am of the view that it would attract good cross-party support in this House. What we have in the North is the failure of two extremes - extreme nationalism from the Sinn Féin side and extreme nationalism from the DUP - to come-----
-----to a reasonable accommodation to get the Executive up and running again. I think Senator Feighan has made a reasonable suggestion. The voices of extremes are not doing the business. The people are being let down.
Is it extreme to believe in marriage equality? Is that an extreme position?
Voices from the mainstream of Northern Irish society should be facilitated in this House, as they were in the past when people like Gordon Wilson were Members of the Seanad.
This is a viable suggestion and is worthy of consideration and support from across these Houses. I will say this much: it is remarkable that when one makes a reasonable proposition about moderate voices that want to advance-----
I cannot hear what the Senator is saying. There are other discussions going on in the Chamber.
It is remarkable that when someone in this House makes-----
The Senator's time is up.
-----a suggestion about having moderate voices that are progressive and want to advance the cause of the people of Northern Ireland, one gets shouted at by one of the extreme nationalist voices in this House.
I wish to address matters concerning the health service and the 7,000 children and adolescents who have been waiting for psychiatric services for a year, if not longer. This is a very serious issue.
Another issue I wish to raise is that of people coming to my clinics who are not being accepted into a doctor's practice. I have come across this issue recently. I know that if one has three refusals from a doctor's surgery, one can write to the health board and it will assign a surgery, but this is becoming a serious issue. Along with this, I read recently in The Sunday Business Post an investigation revealing "a staggering rise in the use of sleeping tablets, painkillers [...] and antidepressants". It referred to "a silent epidemic". The investigation revealed a 1,000% increase in the use of certain addictive painkillers over the past ten years with prescription drugs. It is said this is being called the new Valium, with use having soared from 54,000 to 652,000 in the past few years. I have massive concerns about this.
Next Friday, I believe, will see the launch of the new 2040 national planning framework. With Senator Grace O'Sullivan we are fighting hard to get 24-hour cardiac services in Waterford, yet our health services are suffering. Every day we listen to the great job the Government is doing but we now have children waiting years for psychiatric assessment, people trying to get into doctors' practices and people seeking quality of life but instead taking sleeping tablets. What is the Government doing that it is not looking after the health of Irish citizens? I call on the Minister to come before the House to address this.
I support Senator Swanick's comments about Dr. Selim. He is a Trinity College lecturer in Arabic and a spokesperson for the Clonskeagh mosque. I do not know how he is qualified to speak about medical issues, but his comments were absolutely disgraceful. RTÉ takes its role to provide balance a little too far in allowing someone like Dr. Selim speak about what is essentially the butchery of women. People have been working so hard around the world to combat the practice. Some 200 million women and children have had it performed on them. It is a violation of women. What this man has to say is an absolute disgrace, and I do not see the need for him to be given air time on this issue.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of psychiatrists. There is a need to address the need for more psychiatric services for young people. I hear from friends of mine who are general practitioners that it is very difficult for young people to access psychiatrists. We should discuss this in the House because it is a very serious problem.
The main reason I stand is to raise the issue of folic acid. We all know folic acid is required to avoid neural tube defects, including spina bifida, and that 1,000 babies are born with spina bifida every year. Recent research has suggested that folic acid should be added to some staple foods in the UK, whether bread, water, milk or whatever else. There was a lot of lobbying against this because various studies were produced to show that excessive levels of folic acid could cause all sorts of harm. Much recent research shows that this is absolutely untrue and scaremongering at its finest. Despite huge awareness about folic acid among women, specifically that it is required if one is of child-rearing age, a surprising percentage of women do not take folic acid. It would be a very good idea for us to consider this. It was covered in the ancillary recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, and the HSE was relatively receptive to the recommendation. I wish to raise it with the Minister in the House at some point soon.
Ba mhaith liom inniu an cheist faoin bád farantóireachta, nó an tseirbhís, go Toraigh a ardú. I wish to raise the issue of the ferry service to Tory Island, an island 9 miles off the north-west Donegal coast. The King of Tory Island, Ireland's last remaining king-----
Yahoo. Thank God we have one left.
Some of the residents of the island are visiting Leinster House today. They are currently gathering outside the gates of Leinster House to protest their shocking treatment at the hands of the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht and his Department in the awarding of a contract for the ferry service to the island. This ferry service has operated for many decades. However, the tender is up on 31 March. Therefore, a new service must be put in place by 1 April.
It was recently tendered, but the tender did not include any specification regarding the vessel to provide the service, despite the requests of the island community, which numbers 119 residents. Therefore, the tender was awarded to a 42-year-old vessel which, the islanders maintain, is neither seaworthy nor safe. It is shocking. The Department and the Minister of State invoking taxpayers' money, then turned around and said they would give the residents a grant to build a new boat. This would take three years. Meanwhile, on 1 April 2018, there would be no service. It is shocking.
The Minister of State and the Department have thus far failed to recognise the concerns of the island community. Five or six families have said they will leave the island come 31 March if this is not resolved. This would take five or six families from a population of 119 people. The Government is talking this week about protecting rural Ireland and launching the national planning framework while at the same time presiding over shocking treatment and a tender process that is clearly neither efficient nor effective and does not represent value for money for the taxpayer. I therefore ask the Leader to call the Minister of State and Government Chief Whip before the House to explain what the hell is going on with this service because it is clearly not good enough. It is wrong for a Government Minister of State to go around willy-nilly allocating and promising money to build up people's hopes while the people whom he is trying to fool have their lives to live on an island 9 miles off our coast. It is totally unacceptable.
It reminds me of a pre-Magna Carta Latin phrase, contra proferentem. It is contra regem.
Senators Noone and Murnane O'Connor talked about the 7,000 patient waiting list for child psychiatry services. I want both of them to be aware that we do not need to diagnose those 7,000 children. They do not need to be placed on waiting lists to see consultant psychiatrists. We just need to include well-being in our treatment of our children. We need to protect our kids and not label them. If we had well-being communities, well-being hubs, if we just had the idea of well-being in schools and libraries everywhere, most of those 7,000 children on the waiting list would not have to-----
I just wanted to balance the debate.
However, people will still get sick.
I know, but-----
Point well made. I call Senator Norris.
I call for a debate on transport. People often say, "I hate to say I told you told so". I want to say "I told you so" today. I campaigned for nearly 30 years for an underground railway system in Dublin. I got the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald to do the mathematics. Senator Leyden is nodding; he was here for that debate and contributed to it. Dr. FitzGerald demonstrated that it was impossible for a surface tram to carry the required number of passengers because neither the length nor the frequency of the tram could be increased because of the traffic congestion. Now Councillor Ciarán Cuffe says taxis must be removed from sections of Dublin and another councillor says buses must be removed in order to facilitate the tram.
According to a report in The Irish Times:
Mr Cuffe was speaking after a new 55-metre Luas tram was forced to stop on the 45-metre O’Connell Bridge on Thursday. The tram stopped with its rear carriage protruding across a yellow box junction between O’Connell Bridge and the south quays.
The incident led to massive traffic jams all over Dublin. The trams were also full and could not take any more people. The trams flew past people in stations located all over suburban Dublin and left people absolutely stranded.
What was the Senator quoting, for the record?
I am quoting from the edition of The Irish Times of 9 February and the headline was that Dublin faces another Luas snarl-up.
I welcome the fact that it appears further sections of metro north will be put underground. I understand that there is still a possibility for an orbital underground railway system for Dublin that can be installed reasonably cheaply. I remember bringing over Professor Melis Maynar from Spain. He supervised the building of the Madrid and Barcelona underground system. He travelled here to speak to the Cabinet sub-committee. He showed how we could build an underground in a third of the expected time and at half of the cost. The Government at that time nearly did it.
We could not have that.
That would have been common sense.
The then Government lost their nerve at the very last minute.
Finally, I was really rather saddened to see all of the lovely trees on Molesworth Street uprooted.
I am not sure if a commercial company uprooted the trees. There has been a lot of office development. It is really astonishing that a commercial company can pull up a whole line of trees and leave blank spaces in the ground.
I thought Senator Craughwell asked the Leader of the House to arrange for-----
I cannot hear what is being said.
-----a delegation or deputation to come here to discuss an issue that was raised by my colleague and President to be.
That could be anyone.
I mean Senator Gerard Craughwell.
Senator Craughwell is laughing himself.
I am not worthy.
The Senator is not much of an hero.
He is an-----
I can tell Senator Craughwell not to rely on that, dear boy. If he does he will be sitting outside of Áras an Uachtaráin and not inside. Let us be quite clear about that.
I am sure Senator Leyden would appreciate the job.
I am sorry but I am not in a position to do so.
I ask Senator Leyden to get back on track.
Last Monday, 12 February, myself and my dear colleague, Senator Gerard Craughwell, attended a press conference convened by the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, at its headquarters. The conference was in recognition of the fact that the Council of Europe has recognised PDFORRA's submission to register as a trade union. The Government has opposed such registration. I remind the Government side that it was the late, great Brian Lenihan Snr. who brought about the recognition of PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, in the late 1980s. The measure resulted in these representative bodies, which are very active. To give this matter proper airing - I am sure Senator Craughwell will agree with me - it would be appropriate that the Leader arranges a discussion on this important issue. We have plenty of time but I cannot outline all of the intricacies of the matter. Basically, the Council of Europe committee has stated that PDFORRA is entitled to be registered as a trade union with ICTU and to negotiate on behalf of its members. Senator Craughwell will agree with me that the pay and conditions for the armed forces is not in keeping with the demands placed on them and the risks that they take on behalf of Irish citizens.
I compliment Mr. Mark Keane, president of PDFORRA, Mr. Emmanuel Jacob, president of the European Organisation of Military Associations, EUROMIL, Mr. Gerry Rooney, former general secretary of PDFORRA and Mr. Gerard Guinan, general secretary of PDFORRA, on their work and commitment to this matter. I also wish to place on record that PDFORRA is part of the nominating body for Senator Craughwell and me and we have declared our interest in this matter. Senator Craughwell has been very active, as a former member of every defence force in Europe that I could fit in - definitely at least two of them - which is rather rare. He is an exception. What an achievement. He has survived both of the organisations, which is a great achievement.
They were both in the British Isles to coin a phrase.
I hope that the Leader will consider my request to arrange a debate on this very important issue. One does not have the time to explain the intricacies of this direction or decision by the Council of Europe during the Order of Business.
The Senator is in very ebullient form.
That is because I got my ashes this morning.
The Senator must be feeling the love of St. Valentine's Day.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I support some of what Senator Feighan said here this morning. I had long thought that things were progressing satisfactorily. Certainly, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly does good and valuable work. I now think, however, that the Senator is correct. Given that the news from the North this morning is not encouraging, and from the DUP in particular, an east-west dimension would be well worth pursuing. It could be valuable because there are people short of enlightenment over there. In terms of Brexit, it is in our interest to have an east-west dimension and a proper all-encompassing free trade agreement between the UK and the EU. While the UK does not want to say whether it will be part of the customs union or the Single Market, whatever it is called it has to be negotiated. The UK must be reminded that there are more then legal niceties - obligations - to be complied with and observed in leaving as much as when joining. That aspect does not seem to have fully dawned on them. We await the speeches that will commence today with the UK's Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to see what, if anything, they have learned. Hopefully, there will be some enlightenment. In the medium term, Senator Feighan's proposal to have an east-west dimension and link between these Houses and Westminster would prove valuable and might counter some of the forces over there that do not work in our interests. That does need to be countered.
I join with my colleague, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, and his comments on the dispute that has arisen about the Tory Island ferry. A company called Turasmara has operated the ferry for more than 30 years. The company is owned by a former Fine Gael councillor, Pádraig Doherty, and I note that he had a dispute with the Fine Gael party. I hope that the current dispute is not payback time for him.
I know the Gweedore-Magheroarty area very well and it is one of the most beautiful parts of this country. I have used the excellent ferry service every year for the past 23 years. Tory Island is one of the last inhabited islands off the coast of Ireland and the ferry is the only way that the inhabitants of the island can get their much needed supplies. The ferry also provides an opportunity for locals to earn an income from tourism during the summer months. Thousands of tourists visit the island on an annual basis and they use the ferry. Turasmara has provided a new vessel for the trip and it is very safe. It may not be commonly known but the seas that surround Tory Island are among the roughest in the world.
Yes, they are vicious.
The sea can be very rough even though it might appear calm when one is onshore. I appeal to the Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McHugh, to come in here and outline his plans to resolve the ferry dispute. If there is one thing about the people of Tory Island and island people in general, let us remember that we are all island people, it is that we have a sense of right. Therefore, if something seems to be dodgy or not right then we have a tendency, quite rightly, to stand up to it.
I have a final question for the Leader. After the publication of the much talked about national planning framework in Sligo on Friday, will there be an opportunity for Members to debate it in this House? I agree with the contribution made by Senator Boyhan this afternoon when he called for both Houses to have an opportunity to discuss it and vote on the framework.
I call on the Leader to ask that the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin to come to the House. I made a similar call before Christmas with a view to discussing the sports capital grants. I believe a further debate on sports infrastructure on this island is required, both to provide for a healthy island but also to ensure that our tourist offering and our economic offering tied to sports is of the highest possible standard. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, the constituency I have most familiarity with, we still have a national hockey stadium with an AstroTurf pitch which is not up to international standards due to a stand-off. University College Dublin has had to rely on private money to bring its athletics track up to scratch. There is a litany of such issues, including swimming pools which have not been opened or are lying idle. We need a frank and fair discussion about this matter, and I call on the leader to invite Minister of State, Deputy Griffin here as soon as possible.
I wish to discuss an issue which will cause serious concern, both inside and outside this House. It will have serious implications where I come from. I believe it is reflective of the tail-wagging-the-dog character of this limp Government.
What is the Senator talking about?
Fair play to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, for reopening his local Garda station and closing pubs in towns and villages all over Ireland that he has never heard of. Good luck to the Boxer; he has a hard neck and is a good politician with whom I have served.
Is the Senator referring to Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran?
I served with him and we know each other on personal terms, and I was delighted when he became a Minister of State.
The Senators criticised Fine Gael earlier about mouthing off when people get to their feet, so I would appreciate a bit of courtesy for Fianna Fáil. We are keeping Fine Gael in a job with a bit of support now and again, so I would appreciate a bit of courtesy.
The Senator is admitting to a coalition.
It must be the Valentine's Day effect.
Deputy Moran is calling the shots to keep this Fine Gael Government in power, and at any cost, it seems. Heretofore, Tullamore, Mullingar and Athlone were gateway towns, a development which had been ignored by Governments for the past ten years. Those Governments were happy to appoint them as gateway towns, and to promise money that was going to lead to large scale development in those towns instead of in Dublin. That never happened. The Boxer has prioritised Athlone as a new city under the national planning framework proposal.
With all due respect, the Senator should refer to the Deputy as the Minister of State, Deputy Moran.
Yes, the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. I apologise.
It might be a local term but the Senator has confused people in this House. He is not at a boxing match.
The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, has prioritised Athlone as a new city under the national planning framework proposals. This is a scandalous decision made by senior Fine Gael politicians to keep that party in office. I would ask Fine Gael to look at itself in the mirror and ask what was so wrong with the previous arrangements in Mullingar, Tullamore and Athlone, apart from the fact that no money was put into them. I call on the Leader to speak to the Taoiseach and ask him to revisit this situation. The people of the midlands are not happy.
I wish everyone a very happy St. Valentine's Day. I am delighted to be here on this wonderful day.
I can feel the love.
I am going to stay in this lovely mood for the next ten seconds anyway.
I will be the judge of that when Order of Business is completed.
I thank all Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I noted from Senator Noone that in Taiwan today love symbols have been put up on traffic lights. Perhaps we could start doing that around here as well.
I join with Senator Ardagh in agreeing with the need for all of us, as citizens of a republic and as residents of communities, to make sure that no person is isolated or feeling lonely today. The taskforce she has called for is a good idea. Perhaps we do not need a taskforce; it is a matter of all of us extending the hand of friendship and checking in on neighbours to make sure everything is okay. It is an important suggestion.
The issue of Educate Together schools, raised by Senators Ó Riordán and Ardagh, is important. I am not familiar with the Canal Way Educate Together school. The context is that the Government has committed, as per the programme for Government, to reach 400 multi-denominational schools by 2030. The world is changing. It is ironic that today is Ash Wednesday, and that those who are from a faith community can begin a spiritual journey today. As a society, as a Government and a State, we have to recognise that we are in a changing world and that families should be able to have choice in the education system. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, is committed to this, and has announced plans to accelerate the provision of multi-denominational schools. We want to learn from the previous announcement under former Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, where ten schools transferred to multi-denominational patronage. On the five schools that Senator Ó Riordán referenced yesterday and again today, and which Senator Ardagh also mentioned, there is a need to ensure that the correct process is engaged in. It is important that certainty is provided to the teaching staff and parents, and that we can offer choice to all people who want to go to Educate Together schools. I am a firm advocate for and strong believer in Educate Together. I see such schools in my own city of Cork, where they are providing tremendous education to young people, in a different model from what we were used to as students and teachers. It works. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and deliver more multi-denominational and non-denominational schools. That is what the Minister is going to do. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, will come to the House in the coming weeks. He is committed to it. He is finalising plans with education and training boards, ETBs, to commence surveys of preschool parents. It is fair to say that both this Government and the last Government have been committed to delivering on the Educate Together model.
The subject of Brexit is not going to go away. It is a very important topic. Senator Norris posed a very good, even jocose, question today, asking if it will ever even happen. That is a question that the British Government-----
I hope it does not happen.
We hope it does not happen. Mr. Boris Johnson is today making a number of speeches, as are other members of the UK Government-----
He is speaking from both sides of his mouth simultaneously.
I will not make any comment on that. The report Senator Ardagh mentioned, the Copenhagen Economics study, was commissioned by the Government, and the Government is already taking steps to ensure that the impact of Brexit is minimised. Therein lies the question: how will we know what the real impact of Brexit will be until we see the final outcome? The Tánaiste, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach have been very strong across Europe, as was iar-Thaoiseach, Deputy Kenny, on the views of Government. The report commissioned by Government is there to guide and help us to prevent the worst from happening. It is important to recognise that the Government is taking action, despite what Senator Ardagh says. It has already taken steps to prepare the economy. If one looks at budget 2018, we have the Action Plan for Jobs in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, a new Brexit website, the rolling out of the Brexit loan scheme worth up to €300 million, including the development of a longer-term loan scheme, and the announcement of a €25 million response loan scheme for the agrifood sector, along with the provision of a range of grants and incentives to businesses. I appeal to Senator Ardagh to bring her business to the local enterprise office to find out about these schemes and engage with them, if she has not already done so.
Brexit is important, and that is why this House supported the continuation of the Seanad Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union engagement north, south, east and west. Senator Feighan referenced this as it concerns the North. That is important, and we will have an ongoing debate about Brexit in this House. It is important to ensure that Government is ready, and it is being proactive.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the national planning framework, as did Senator Wilson. I am happy to have a debate on the plan when it is published on Friday. In response to Senator Boyhan's direct comment, my information - and if I am wrong I am happy to stand corrected - is that no vote is required for the national planning framework plan. We certainly will have debate on the matter in the House. I have no issue with that. It was never intended that there would be a final vote on the development plan. There has been engagement and consultation with all sides of the House. Members of this House made submissions. The important point now, in the context of Senator Davitt's contribution on the national development framework and national plan, is to ensure that the regions benefit from such a plan with the investment that so many Senators call for every day.
What we are doing in the national development plan is investing so that we can have opportunities for people to grow businesses and create jobs in areas outside of Dublin, be it in Mullingar, Athlone, Cork, Carlow, Cavan, Roscommon, Limerick or wherever. The national planning framework will incorporate Ireland 2040. It is an ambitious plan for our country and I hope that we will all get behind it, wear the green jersey and put aside the narrow focus of our parochial interests. The latter bedevilled Fianna Fáil in the past in the context of its national spatial strategy, which was a disaster. I think the Fianna Fáil Members would have to acknowledge that.
It was a great success in Roscommon.
Money was not put into it. That was the problem. We had an answer.
The Leader should come to Roscommon to see decentralisation.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of housing.
Is the Leader for real?
Allow the Leader to continue. The Leader should not allow himself to be baited.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of housing. I was not laughing at the comment about the lady to whom he referred. It is disingenuous to say that I was.
That is how it looked.
The Senator knows well what he is doing. As the Cathaoirleach said, I am not going to be baited by Senator Gavan.
It is no laughing matter.
It is no laughing matter. The Senator is correct. That is why this Government is committed to Rebuilding Ireland. That is why we are building social housing in all parts of the country. As I said to Senator Humphreys yesterday, I want to see every working family in our country housed. It is not about a cheap slogan or getting a headline from comments in the House. It is about investment. The comment which the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, made yesterday was made in the context of there being differentials in rent prices-----
-----in different parts----
That is what he said.
-----of Cork, Limerick and Dublin.
He is out of touch.
With respect, the Senator is out of touch. He knows quite well that this is the case and if he does not, he should come with me to visit Cork.
I will invite him to Cork.
Senator Gavan made his point clearly earlier.
Different rents are being sought in different parts.
They are building a road down to Cork for Senator Gavan.
To be fair, that is the point the Minister of State was making. He was saying that different rents were being sought and charged.
He used the term "a fraction".
What we must do - and Senator Gavan must show his support for this - is increase supply and ensure that rent pressure zones do not drive people out of houses and that landlords are part of the process. Senator Gavan has an ideology that does not want-----
I am a socialist. I do not believe in subsidising landlords.
Yes, but the Senator does not want anybody-----
There should be no interaction across the floor.
The Senator has a one-dimensional model, which is to build houses full stop. That is not happening anywhere in the world. Where it did happen, it failed.
It did. That is the reality.
The rent pressure zones are not working. The report published yesterday shows that rents are increasing and that the rent pressure zones are not working.
The report does not have the facts for the full year.
No, it does.
Let us have it when we come back. If it has to be changed, I have no problem with changing it.
Does the Leader have alternative facts?
No. As Senator Gavan knows quite well, I deal in real facts. The real facts are that more houses are being built than last year and more people are being accommodated. Yes, we have an issue. I accept that. I have always said it. However, the matter cannot be solved overnight. The party - it could be his party's next coalition partner - beside whose members Senator Gavan is seated wrecked the-----
I would hate to split Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael up on St. Valentine's Day.
We will get back on track.
I join Senator Maria Byrne in congratulating the students from Scoil Íde on their success in the Intel Mini Scientist Competition. I also congratulate those at Troy Studios on their success. It shows that there is innovation and creativity in the schools. We commend our teachers, the students and their families. With "The Young Offenders", we have witnessed the success of our film sector and here is another good news story.
Senator Swanick raised a very important issue about the charity sector and Oxfam in particular. I am not fully aware of the complete story but I read some of it and heard a little about it on Sky News yesterday. The Senator is right in making his points about the charity sector. I am glad that Oxfam Ireland has disassociated from the mother ship, if I can put it that way, in terms of what has happened.
Senators Swanick and Noone raised the issue of female genital mutilation or circumcision. I agree with them. As I said on yesterday's Order of Business, it is not a medical procedure. It is inhumane and barbaric treatment of women and it is wrong. We should all stand united in our condemnation of it and work to change the mindset of some people. I know others of the Islamic faith have a different viewpoint on the practice and we welcome that.
Senators Craughwell and Leyden referred to PDFORRA and the case in the European Union on the acknowledgement of its members' rights. I welcome that and congratulate PDFORRA. Mark Keane is a very fine person whom I know well. We all accept that there should be collective bargaining. That is important. I hope that as a consequence of this ruling the Department, the Minister and those in the Army and Navy will co-ordinate to implement the outcome. I am not familiar with the case of the LÉ Cliona which the Senator raised. He raised it in the House and had spoken to me about it already. I am happy to meet him, talk about it and, as I said, take the matter to the Minister.
Senator Martin Conway raised the issue of reusable coffee cups. We all welcome any progress in that regard. On tobacco-free Ireland and Ash Wednesday, it should be the aspiration of all of us to have a tobacco-free Ireland and to encourage people to stop smoking. An old advertisement was played on "Morning Ireland", the purpose of which was to try to encourage women to smoke. We should all work together to make sure that big tobacco does not recruit more young people, and young women in particular, to smoking because tobacco is dangerous and causes cancer. We should all stand united on that.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the cath lab in Waterford. I know there was a protest last Saturday. I would be happy to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House. A national review of cardiac specialist services is taking place. I know that the mobile cath lab in Waterford is continuing to operate and that Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Coffey have been very proactive on the matter. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the wider issue of health. I will come back to him on it because it is an issue which is prevalent on the Order of Business most days.
Senators Feighan, Ó Ríordáin and Coghlan referred to the North. I appeal to all of those involved in the talks to negotiate and reach an agreement. The impasse has remained for far too long, from last year's elections up until now. There is a need for devolved government in the North of our country. I know that Senators Feighan and Craughwell were in Glencree yesterday. We need to ensure that we have a government to represent the people of the North at a very critical time in terms of the Brexit talks and in the context of the need for a devolved government in the North. There is a duty on all sides. Senator Ó Ríordáin is right. It is about meeting in the middle, whether on the proposed Irish language legislation or marriage equality, and about getting an outcome that is to the benefit of the people. I would say to our unionist friends in the North that there is nothing to fear from an Irish language Act. I would ask them to work with us to ensure that we can have our own language and culture preserved and protected. Equally, there is nothing to fear from marriage equality. I ask Sinn Féin to move with the unionists on certain issues. Let us have a government that can work for the people at a critical time.
I also join with Senators Ó Ríordáin and Feighan in their comments. Although we have no role in how Senators are elected to the House, we have been well served by unionist Members. I am thinking of people like Gordon Wilson, Sam McAughtry, Maurice Hayes-----
John Robb, exactly. There is Senator Norris in the South, but I was thinking about Members from the North.
I am really a dual monarchist. Austria-Hungary was the model.
I am not sure the Senator really is a queen.
I most definitely am. An empress.
We can look at the method of electing Members as part of Seanad reform but, in the meantime, we have a vacancy and another is pending. I am sure there will be bargaining on what will happen in that regard. Perhaps there will not. The people will decide in any event.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of health and the report on waiting times which was released this morning. I am not sure if the Senator heard the response from the HSE on "Morning Ireland". If she had, she would have heard that the headline was not necessarily correct. Government has prioritised investment in child psychological services. I accept that waiting times are unacceptably high. Equally, parents are frustrated. However, let us make the situation quite clear. If one were to listen to the Senator's comments this morning one would think the Government was doing nothing, but the facts - and they are not alternative facts - are that €5 million extra was added to the budget and that 114 assistant psychologists and 20 staff grade psychologists are being recruited. That is being done as we speak.
Recruitment is the biggest issue.
That is why people are waiting. It is the truth.
The Senator did not say that in her contribution.
She came in and castigated the Government for doing nothing.
Absolutely. I have been highlighting issues of mental health needs for months.
Senator, please. You have had your say.
A lovers' tiff on St. Valentine's Day.
I believe in giving the facts.
I am giving the Leader the facts.
Senator Murnane O'Connor is giving alternative facts.
Let us move on.
The reality is extra funding of €200 million was made available, with more staff being recruited.
It is a question of finding them.
There we go.
They are not there.
I wonder who drove them out of the country.
Senators can have a discussion outside the Chamber but not on the Order of Business.
Senator Noone raised the issue of folic acid and the need for a debate around that. It is important that we have a general holistic debate on health because there are very pertinent issues that get lost in the dynamics of the Order of Business in the House, where Members raise the most visible issues although there are other issues that are equally important. I will have that debate.
Senators Ó Domhnaill and Wilson ably represented the islanders of Tory Island in regard to the ferry service and the vessel that is required. I know the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, has met with islanders and he has engaged on the possibility of a new boat. I am sure that will be brought to a successful conclusion. I am not sure what Senator Wilson was insinuating with his remarks about a former Fine Gael councillor but I am sure everything is above board and-----
I would be inclined not to delve into those issues, Leader.
I was going to say that I will leave that for another day.
I would love to go on holidays with Senator Wilson, by the way. I think we would have a great time on holidays.
I do not know what our respective spouses would think of that.
We could maybe get a caravan on the ferry in the summer.
We would then have a skipper and first mate.
It is an important issue because the issue of the islands is important. It is about connectivity and about ensuring people can live, in this case, on Tory Island and be allowed to have that choice. It is a very important issue and I do not mean to be frivolous about it. The Minister of State, Deputy McHugh has been involved and met with the islanders, and I hope there will be a successful outcome.
Senator Devine raised the issue of well-being and she made a very good point - it is definitely St. Valentine's day if I am agreeing with Senator Devine. The whole issue of well-being is important and we are hoping to have it on the school curriculum. Perhaps the CPP could look at the issue of well-being for the Houses of the Oireachtas as well, because it is important. If one listened to the priest at Ash Wednesday mass this morning, he spoke about that need to be silent, to be reflective and to be at peace.
We could look at it for this Chamber as well.
We could. I am doing my best today.
Senator Norris raised the important issue of transport and I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House. The Senator has been a long-time campaigner on certain issues in regard to Dublin transport. The Government is investing but it is an issue that we need to have addressed. I will have the Minister come to the House.
I join with Senator Norris in posing the question of why the trees were knocked, demolished and destroyed as part of the building on Molesworth Street. I think it is appalling if it was allowed to happen as part of planning. Trees are our oxygen. They are part of our built environment and, in the Dublin street we are talking about today, they were part of and an addition to that street. I have not got the answer for the Senator but I think it is an important matter to raise.
I have given Senator Leyden a reply in regard to PDFORRA in that I responded to Senators Coghlan, Feighan, Ó Ríordáin in an overall sense-----
We might have a discussion on it in due course.
I would be happy to facilitate that. Senator Davitt raised the issue of the national planning and development framework.
We will not get into a debate on that now.
I will not. I know Senator McFadden has been very involved in progressing and advocating for her area.
Senator Richmond raised the issue of tourism and sport, and the need for a debate on sports infrastructure. In light of the Rugby World Cup bid, that is certainly very opportune and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. Sport is a very important part of all of our lives but, equally, it is an attraction to bring people to visit, whether it is Dublin, Cork or Limerick. I would be happy to have that debate in the House at later date.
With that, I wish everybody a very happy St. Valentine's Day. Whether we celebrate the first day of Lent or not, I hope we have a very peaceful Lent. I wish everybody well.