The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018 - back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding Health and Social Care Professionals Act Regulations - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, Vehicle Registration Data (Automated Searching and Exchange) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.; and No. 4, statements on housing, resumed, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and to be concluded within one hour, if not previously concluded, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
There are three items I wish to raise today. I raised the first of these last week, the prospective sale by Permanent TSB of €4 billion of a non-performing loan book to unregulated vulture funds. I put on record my objection to this prospective sale. I note the Taoiseach's comments during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil, when he intimated the sale may not be to vulture funds but rather another national bank. I would like to hear more about that and I would welcome an elaboration by the Taoiseach. However, I urge the Government to take on board and enact the Fianna Fáil Bill relating to vulture funds, which would ensure all banks acting within the State are bound by Central Bank regulatory standards. We cannot have a position where one family's mortgage is governed by one set of rules while the mortgage of the family next door is not.
These are not merely figures on a balance sheet. Families, small businesses and farmers will be affected by the sale. At present, the Central Bank cannot govern unregulated banks. Therefore, consumers who have loans that have been categorised as non-performing are in a very vulnerable position. The Minister knew there would be an outcry and that is why he flagged this matter to the Cabinet last week. I call on him today to use his powers as a shareholder to object to the sale during his powers of consultation.
The second item I wish to raise today is the supervised drug injection centre on Merchant's Quay. Last week, I learned that the centre will be opened in Dublin. It is one of the first such centres in the country and is located in the heart of the constituency of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I call on her to come in here and tell us what assurances have been given to the local community to ensure that the centre does not become a hub of anti-social behaviour and does not have an adverse influence on the residential hinterland. Dublin South Central, and in particular the south inner city, seems to be a dumping ground for such services. Would the centre be opened without objection or concern in the leafy suburbs of Ballsbridge? We all know that the answer is no. Communities and schools located close to the centre are concerned about health and safety. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter in this House, without delay. I ask the Minister of State to update the House in a few months on how the facility is being managed, maintained and operated.
The third item I wish to raise is cancer care. I have raised the issue on previous occasions and I shall do so again today. We have an excellent record in cancer care and we are on our third national cancer strategy, which is something we should be very proud of. However, I am truly disappointed to learn about the cases of misdiagnosis at St. James's Hospital, which is my local hospital. As we know, this matter will be highlighted in tonight's episode of "RTÉ Investigates". My heart goes out to the patients who are dealing with the consequences of misdiagnosis. I have first-hand experience of the top-class service given in St. James's Hospital as my father was a patient for 15 years. I cannot fault the professional care that he received. It is awful to learn that the care given at the hospital has deteriorated. As I have previously mentioned, patients at the hospital who were in remission did not receive quarterly scans. As a result, they did not get the quick diagnosis and treatment that they deserved. I have also raised the issue of the increased waiting times for people who have received a diagnosis of cancer but have been unable to start chemotherapy treatments in a timely fashion. These delays, the delays in commencing treatment and the delayed scans have caused a great amount of fear and upset for patients and their supportive families. I call on the Minister for Health to attend the House today to show us how he has prioritised and committed to ensure that the cancer strategy is implemented properly nationwide. I urge him to give us a detailed report about what he knows about the cases of misdiagnosis at St. James's Hospital.
I wish to bring one issue to the attention of Senators. I want them to think of instances of overcrowding in everyday life. It could be on our buses, on the Luas or in our children's classrooms. While we object to such overcrowding, and it is uncomfortable to say the least, I want Senators to imagine an overcrowded psychiatric ward. I mean a ward where there is enough space for 44 people but, in fact, 50 people have been crammed in. These are people who are in St. Luke's psychiatric unit in Kilkenny. Those residents are not people who attend school, who are in receipt of education or who travel from one space to another. These are people who have enduring illnesses and are in very serious and deep distress. They are crammed into a situation not only where there are not enough beds but where one patient had to sleep on a mattress that had been placed on the floor.
Not only am I thinking of the patients, I am thinking also of the staff who must work in these units. The psychiatric nurses who work in Waterford and Kilkenny have decided to commence an industrial dispute and not to operate non-nursing duties. I applaud them for doing so because we will never ever see an improvement unless people stand up, complain and go on strike. I remember my mother going on strike when I was growing up. Every now and then she would down tools, walk upstairs and read a book on her bed because she was disgusted by something that her husband or children had done. Everyone in the household would then scurry around the house to do something that delighted her again so that she would come back and be a mother to us.
This is what those poor unfortunate psychiatric nurses in Waterford and Kilkenny are doing now. They are saying that enough is enough. The HSE talks about the recruitment and retention of staff. Perhaps it should just stop complaining and making excuses and look at the real problem, which is the redeployment of staff there, the use of agency staff, overtime and the reliance on the goodwill of overstretched permanent staff. It is that alone. The psychiatric nurses, both men and women, are asked at the end of a long shift to stay on for longer and it is their goodwill, resilience and care and love for humanity, particularly for the patients in their wards, which make them stay and look after them further. We have to stop this. Once again, I am glad to support the psychiatric nurses in Waterford and Kilkenny. They have my undivided attention. If they would like me to visit to see their desperate situation, I would be happy to do so.
I wish to raise the recently announced public consultation on the British Government's plan to develop a new reactor at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset, England. Like my colleagues in the Civil Engagement group, I came to the Seanad from the world of activism. In my case it was ten years on Greenpeace ships combatting nuclear weapons and nuclear waste in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. At that time nuclear power was an incredibly expensive and centralised way of producing power and it was marred by waste disposal and nuclear material proliferation issues. Sadly, all these concerns remain and the plans for the new reactor at Hinkley Point make a lie of the small government image of the Tory Party in the UK. Nuclear power is incredibly expensive, difficult to secure and still has all the attendant waste disposal issues of the past. In fact, it is such an expensive way to make power that one must wonder if the UK Government has other reasons for pushing such projects, such as providing new materials for weapons that should be confined to the dustbin of history. However, that is a discussion for another time.
My primary concern in raising the issue today is the news that local authorities will be opening public consultation on our reaction to the plans for the new plant, one that is only 500 km from our capital city and which would impact on our entire economy and society in the case of a serious incident. What particularly disturbs me is that recent legal challenges to the plan with regard to its compliance with the Espoo Convention succeeded not because of the intervention or activity of the Irish Government but because of complaints lodged by Norwegian and Dutch citizens. Now, it will be up to Irish citizens to step up to the plate and have their concerns heard, without any signal of support from the Irish Government. Irish Governments, both Fianna Fáil led and Fine Gael led, used to have a proud record of vocal opposition to the dangers posed by Sellafield and other UK nuclear facilities in the 1980s and 1990s. That led to significant improvements in the operation of those facilities, but now we appear to have lost our voice. Will the Leader explain why that is the case? Will the Irish Government put forward a submission in this regard? With the UK about to leave the EU it has indicated that it is also leaving the EURATOM Treaty, its last link to a common approach on information and safety with regard to nuclear power. We will have to find our voice again on this issue sooner or later, and I believe the time is now.
I wish to express my support of Senator Grace O'Sullivan's comments and concerns about Hinkley power plant. It is very important that submissions are made. Perhaps we should consider making a submission from this House on such a serious situation. We can discuss that in an informal way, but it is very important that the voices of Irish citizens are heard. I doubt that there would be much deviation from any of the submissions that would be made.
Today I wish to speak about the sale of the recent sale of mortgages to vulture funds.
I have spoken about this many times, as I am a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. These are the very same vulture funds which have continuously refused to appear before the committee saying that they are adhering to the code of conduct of the Central Bank of Ireland. The most recent round of sales by Permanent TSB is shocking in its scale of €4 billion. There has been a lot of reaction in the Seanad and across the political spectrum but very little firm political commitment to solving the problem. Let me stress that legislation is needed as well as political pressure. In terms of political pressure, the Minister for Finance, as the majority shareholder, can tell State-owned banks not to permit further sales to vulture funds. Practical legislation is also required and in 2015, the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government failed to put in place the proper regulation of the vulture funds. Its legislation centred only the middle man or the credit servicing firm. That has given rise to all kinds of issues where the owner of the credit gets off the hook, but my Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, attempted to make sure that the owners of the vulture funds were fully regulated but our amendment was voted down on Committee Stage in May 2015 by both the Fine Gael and the Labour Party, with the members of the Fianna Fáil Party not turning up for the vote. A Programme for a Partnership Government states: "We will provide greater protection for mortgage holders and tenants and SMEs whose loans have been transferred to non-regulated entities (‘vulture funds’). (Year 1 Action)." This commitment is classed as a "Year 1 action", but I do not see much evidence of any major progress so far since the programme was signed up for. The same promise is contained in the confidence and supply agreement, which Fianna Fáil has signed up to.
Will the Minister for Finance come to the Chamber because I wish to ask him what the Government plans are to deal with the vulture funds in the long term? The issue is that long-term products are being sold to short-term entities which want to make a quick buck, and many millions of bucks. As a result, the vultures are not interested in sustainable solutions but in cashing in, one way or another. Until this is done, many homes, businesses and farms will be under threat of maverick action by these vulture funds. If there is a write down to be done, it needs to be with the homeowner. Giving a write down to vulture funds is absolutely nonsensical and it is an exploitation of Irish citizens.
I voice my support for Senator Grace O'Sullivan's expression of concern on Hinkley Point C plant. It certainly used to be the practice that successive Irish Governments would engage very actively on matters pertaining to nuclear power, nuclear energy and the location and development of nuclear reactors in the UK. I recall back in the mid-1990s, when my former colleague, the then Minister of State, Emmet Stagg, had responsibility for energy matters, that he directly represented the views of the Government at an oral hearing in Cumbria on developments in the UK. That is something we should encourage. The concerns of the Irish public should be communicated directly to the British Government on Hinkley Point C at a bilateral level and multilateral level in the context of the European Union.
May I request a debate on the recently published Project Ireland 2040? This is a pivotal set of proposals that will dictate jobs and investment and the provision of public services in the country, not just for the next 20 years but for the next 30 to 40 years. It is my firm view that the plan is not sufficiently resourced. Since the publication of the plan we have read that the dedicated resources amount to approximately €115 billion, but when one scratches beneath the surface, the dedicated resources amount to about €91 billion, nothing near the €115 billion that we have been fed by the strategic communications unit that now seems to operate hand in glove with the Fine Gael press office. In reality, if the Government decided it was not going to introduce the type of tax breaks it is talking about, we would have the additional resources we need to provide the type of schools, hospitals and other public services that we need.
We would have the additional €15 billion to €25 billion that is required to ensure the Irish people get the public services they demand and are entitled to expect in a decent republic. Since Friday, we have been treated to an orgy of public relations stunts from the Fine Gael Party in the guise of the strategic communications unit. I went to the cinema on Sunday evening to watch a great Martin McDonagh film, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri". When I was going home, I expected to see three billboards outside Drogheda telling me how great the national planning framework is for Drogheda.
That is next week.
The reality, unfortunately, is something different.
That is phase 2.
When I was sitting in the cinema and looking forward to the film, I was treated to a very skilled piece of material - I imagine that this wonderful set of graphics was fantastically expensive - telling me how great the national planning framework and the Ireland 2040 programme are. The reality as it pertains to my own town of Drogheda is something less ambitious.
The curtain must fall now, Senator.
We have been treated to a range of commitments and promises that are designed to take the bare look off the draft plan, which neglects to mention Ireland's largest town.
The Labour Party is spinning again.
It is important that we have a debate in this House because this plan will dictate where investment goes over the next 20 to 30 years. It will prioritise where public investment in our schools, hospitals and public transport system goes as well. We need to get the Minister in to debate this pivotal plan for the future of Ireland. I propose that such a discussion should be facilitated this week rather than next week.
We are very happy in Athlone.
All of us on this island would be very concerned about the development of further nuclear power plants in the UK, particularly at a time when we are driving towards renewable resources rather than back to the old ways.
I rise today to add urgency to the call I made last week for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to be brought to this House to explain how the new regulator at Dublin Airport will work and where the funding will come from to fund such an agency through Fingal County Council.
Perhaps he could speak about traffic congestion while he is in here.
I am glad the Senator has mentioned that. I want to speak more forcefully on the issue of newspaper articles comparing the metro to a Luas or a tram. Those who know their onions with regard to transport will be aware that the Luas carries between 6,000 and 8,000 passengers per hour and unfortunately is interrupted by traffic, whereas the metro will be able to carry 20,000 passengers an hour and will not be interrupted by traffic.
The metro will be capable of carrying 30 trams per hour, or one every two minutes. It will carry 30 million passengers per annum. The estimated level of demand for metro services is 17,000 passengers per hour. As I have said, it will have a capacity of 20,000 passengers per hour. This project is not just about connecting the airport, Swords and the greater Fingal area to the city; it is also about increasing the flow of people to and from the city. It is now proposed that the metro will extend right across to the south of the city as well. This will lead to much greater connectivity.
Enough land has been zoned near the town of Swords to facilitate the addition of the equivalent of a town the size of Balbriggan. There is a proposed metro stop adjacent to the zoned land. In addition, a metro park and ride facility will be available for that whole area and indeed for Louth and east Meath. As I have said, Swords could cope with 33,000 new houses, or 100,000 people. That is what the land is zoned for.
Dublin Airport had 30 million visitors last year and 32 million visitors are expected this year. We need to give them connectivity. Dublin Airport is one of the few airports in Europe, and perhaps the only airport serving a capital city, that does not have a rail connection straight into the city centre. This project is a win-win-win. Dublin Airport has been a super success story under this Government and its predecessor and we want that to continue. We do not want to see it lost.
The most recent cost-benefit analysis that was done on the metro project showed that for every €1 that is spent, we will get €2 in revenue. My message to the naysayers who do not know the difference between the tram, the Luas and the metro is "build it and they will come". For once, can we put facilities in place in our city and in Fingal before and as houses are built? By putting them in place years later, we leave our people with a poorer quality of life.
I would like to raise the issue of insurance costs and the unending upward spiral of premiums for business, farm, household and motor insurance.
Following pressure by a number of bodies, including Fianna Fáil, a working group was established to investigate the matter. It concluded its work in January 2017 and made several key recommendations which, in its qualified opinion, were necessary in order that the rising spiral of insurance premiums could be tackled once and for all. I am disappointed to say that, over one year later, we are still waiting for key recommendations to be put in place in several areas. One concerns the establishment of a database of uninsured drivers who were involved in approximately 2,700 accidents in 2017. As insured drivers know, we are all paying for uninsured drivers. It is shameful that one year after it was made we are still awaiting implementation of the recommendation of the expert group that there be a database of uninsured drivers. As the Leader will agree, this is a very serious issue. People are at the end of their tether with year-on-year increases in insurance premiums. I ask him to use his good offices to ensure the recommendations of the expert group will be implemented immediately in order that people will see some reduction in their premiums, rather than being fearful of year-on-year increases.
I endorse what was said by Senator Catherine Ardagh about the need for urgent action on the proposed sale of mortgages and small business loans by banks to what are commonly known as vulture funds. A couple of things must be remembered in that regard as there are two sides to the story. Some people over-extended themselves and owe money which they should be required to pay, if they have it. However, we should not forget the circumstances in which the credit in question was extended to many people. They were extended credit at a time when loans up to 110% of the value of their property were available and in a vastly overheated property market. The banks were chasing people to take out loans. We have not forgotten the letters that arrived unsolicited through our letter boxes offering us cheap credit here, there and everywhere.
I was offered €30,000 to buy a boat.
Indeed. The boat the Senator already had was quite adequate.
I sailed on it very nicely.
I hope the parties to the confidence and supply agreement will come to an agreement on the issue. I am fully in favour of a reasonable, rational approach to working out how ordinary owners of small and medium-sized enterprises and homeowners can be properly protected. The public should be informed of the nominal value of the loans being sold and the consideration received for them, particularly in the case of banks which were aided by public money. In other words, there should be a clear indication of the extent of discounting------
------which lies at the heart of this transaction because if it is in the order of 20% or 30%, as a community, we should ask ourselves if we resuscitated the banks in order to allow a group of private enterprise companies from outside the country to make up the 70% difference by putting pressure on people. I hope that whatever accommodation is reached by the two parties to the confidence and supply agreement will facilitate the public in being entitled to know the extent of the discounting taking place.
I also echo the sentiments of Senator Grace O'Sullivan on the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant. With it, three more nuclear power plants are planned in England. It is, therefore, time for the Government to act.
Like everyone else, I will speak about Permanent TSB and the 20,000 family home loans which will be sold to vulture funds and banks. I spoke about this issue a number of months ago and Deputy Bernard J. Durkan has proposed legislation on it to the Minister. There is the proposed sale of €4 billion worth of residential mortgages at discount prices which would cause chaos for the families concerned. Customers rang Permanent TSB yesterday to ask if their mortgages were being sold. They were told that they would receive letters if their mortgages were sold. The courts are not able to cope with these cases and it will cause chaos if the vulture funds get into the market. Cases are being adjourned because judges to do not want to put families out onto the street. I attended the courthouse in Trim a couple of months ago when 90 cases were adjourned. None of them was dealt with. I recently dealt with a person whose mortgage had been taken over by a vulture fund. The lady concerned who had a young family had offered to pay €500 a month. It had not been accepted and the house was sold for €80,000. She then had to be housed by the local authority and the taxpayer has had to put up €700 a month under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. We bailed out Permanent TSB in one shape; it will flog everything and the taxpayer will have to come along and dish out again.
We have to stop this. There is a need for immediate action. I am sick of the shit banks and building societies that think they can get away with this.
The Senator has been in the Chamber long enough to know that using-----
I am serious about it.
If the Senator was using it to grab a headline, I would be very disappointed.
I am not using it to grab a headline; I am just saying it as it is.
I suggest the Senator withdraw the word used.
We need the Minister to come into the House to get something done.
The Senator could have used the word "ordure".
In the same vein, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to facilitate a discussion on the Government's plans to deal with the vulture funds.
As item No. 1.
As item No. 1.
No prompting, please.
I also support Senator Frank Feighan's comments on-----
Is the Senator formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
What item is the Senator proposing be taken first?
Item No. 1.
No, to what item is the Senator referring?
The Senator is seeking a debate on the vulture funds.
Yes, a discussion on the vulture funds.
That is fine.
Yes. Because of the interruption, I did not hear the Senator clearly.
I commend Senator Joan Freeman for her support of nursing colleagues in Kilkenny who are due to take industrial action. Like many other mothers throughout the country, her mother knew about the effectiveness of downing tools to get a reaction. Unfortunately, it has taken such a decision to get a reaction. This is not about seeking an increase in pay but about their conditions and the conditions faced by vulnerable patients.
I commend the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for producing the document I received in the post this morning. I am sure everyone else received it, too. It is entitled, Spotlight: Homecare for Older People - Seven Policy Challenges. I spoke to those who work in the service and they told me that they set priorities each year. Prudently and wisely, they foresaw the need to carry out research in the area of home care and produced this document which sets out the challenges this House and the country will have to address. It is a developing sector, with a year-on-year increase of 20,000 people over the age of 65 years. The sector is largely unchallenged and lacks a national policy framework. We need to deal with the issue.
There is discussion of the matter and the Government has plans to put home care services on a statutory basis or an equal footing to hospital and nursing home care services. Will the Leader ask the Minister to update us on the public consultation process taking place on home care services and home care packages for elderly and disabled persons, in particular?
I wrote to the Taoiseach yesterday following the welcome decision made on 30 January that the Government would ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Following that decision, there was a statement from the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, indicating that by mid-February a resolution would be passed in the Dáil to give effect to the decision and that by the end of February the instrument of ratification would be deposited with the United Nations. I am not being fussy about a couple of days, but after the 11 years we have had to wait, it is important that we keep the pressure on. I am certainly asking the Leader to do anything he can in that regard. I hope the resolution will be before the Dáil on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. There is no question but that all entities and parties in both Houses in the run-up to the last general election showed their agreement with ratification of the convention. We have already heard Senator Joan Freeman talk about the related issue of mental health. Let us be clear: it forms part of the convention and is relevant for people with all manner of disabilities and conditions. Apart from those who have a primary issue with mental health, there are many people with disabilities whose mental health can be vulnerable at times. Sadly, memory serves me well on the issue of the nuclear plant in the United Kingdom. There is a correlation between it and clusters of critical illnesses and disabilities among children in the north east of this country. I use the word "correlation" but will say no more than it. Concerns arise about these matters. I appeal to the Leader to give any support or encouragement he can to ensure the Government will keep moving on the issue of ratification of the convention.
I raise with the Leader the issue of the provision of defibrillators following sterling work done across the House by Senator Keith Swanick on proposed legislation. Not only do I support it, but I would also like to have a debate, with the Minister for Health or the Minister for Education and Skills, on the campaign to have defibrillators placed in every primary and secondary school throughout the country. In my village of Stepaside a defibrillator is located on an outside wall between the pharmacy and the general practitioner's surgery. It has been used three times in the past year to save lives. The more we have defibrillators available, the more lives can be saved. This is a key issue on which those of us in the Seanad can lead. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on it.
I thank the Senator for his brevity.
I certainly agree with Senators Michael McDowell and Catherine Ardagh who spoke about the mortgage crisis and the sale of loans. We will hear all of the technical debate on Basel II, the impairment of our balance sheets and the ratio of loans to assets in the banks. As it has come down the road from the European Union, we cannot be oblivious to it. We were quick to deliver NAMA to large enterprises, banks, large developers and everyone else it suited at the time. Why can the common person not have a NAMA? It is the common-sense way forward. Certainly, the banks have to look after the balance sheets, but they could be dealt with through a special vehicle to deal with all impaired loans. That is all. I simply wanted to comment on that matter.
The national development plan was unveiled last week with great fanfare, press and photo shoots, but I missed the exact details. All I heard was about Ardee and Drogheda from Senator Gerald Nash, but I missed that part of it. The amount of infrastructure to be built and planned is immense, as is the related detail.
I have one query for the Leader. There are 60 blocklayers and 27 plasterers in apprenticeship schemes. Who will build everything? Unless the infrastructure is virtual, how will it be built? It is not possible. We previously discussed apprenticeship schemes. They were supposed to be ramped up, but that has not happened. The issue has been talked about for the past two years. We will have to tackle the issue head-on or it will not progress.
We met representatives from the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, today. The Leader has worked hard on this issue. Nearly 60% of councillors are now worse off than they were before the new deal on pay and conditions was implemented. It is hard to fathom. They are the figures supplied by the AILG. I know the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, has done a lot of work on this and intends to do a lot more. The sooner we can make progress with this the better for everyone.
I would like to comment on the debate taking place around Permanent TSB and vulture funds. I agree with Senator McDowell that the public deserves to know the full extent of non-performing loans across all of the banks, not just those which were bailed out but also those which are regulated by the Central Bank.
Many issues around banking have failed to be resolved. The problems we are encountering now will occur again because everything is cyclical. The banks are dealing with the provision of loans in exactly the same manner as they did ten years ago just before the boom. All of the national newspapers are subscribing to this because they are all advertising loans and houses. The same thing is beginning to happen again.
Why are some banks offering clinics at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. on a Saturday where people can order mortgages? Why are banks beginning to write to people again? There is a need to scrutinise what has occurred and what we can learn from it. There is also a need to look at our education system and educate people before they take out a mortgage about the consequences of default.
A regular mortgage in my county of €200,000 over 30 years at the current variable rate of about 3.6% would result in interest payable of €130,500. The banks are fleecing the ordinary consumers who they are there to serve. The taxpayer has bailed out some of these institutions and will do so again. As sure as tomorrow is Wednesday this will happen again. We should consider this issue in an outside-of-the-box manner.
Why should an ordinary consumer without any financial expertise be able to walk into a bank and subscribe to or receive information from it about a product which is significantly financially lucrative for the bank? Should that not be done through an independent intermediary with no links whatsoever to any financial institution which is independently regulated by the regulator? There is a need to re-examine this issue because we will be back at square one. I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister for Finance on this general issue and other issues around banking.
Like Senator Devine, I would like to thank the library service for the very comprehensive document it produced on elderly care. I have previously stated that the number of people aged over 65 now totals 637,000 and by 2030 the figure will be over 1 million. That is why we published the national plan for our health service. We currently have 2.6 beds per 1,000 of population, whereas the average in the OECD is 4.3.
Some 51% of people who occupy hospital beds are aged over 65 so we need to plan ahead and build hospitals. The Government has just published the national development plan which includes a comprehensive programme for building hospitals. From 1978 to 2008, no new hospital was built even though the country was flush with money, whether that was false or otherwise. Three new hospitals are being built at present and a further seven will be set in progress in the next three years.
In respect of elderly care, I have published a Bill relating to home care providers. One can serve ten years in prison but on the day one comes out, one can set up a company to provide home care without being scrutinised or cross-checked. We debated the Bill but I ask the Leader to allow it to come back into the House for Report Stage. With a growing elderly population there will be a greater demand for home care. At the health committee last Wednesday we learned that there were 29,000 people in community hospitals and private nursing homes and the number will be approximately 42,000 by 2030 so we need more home care and we need proper regulation of the sector.
I raised the question of Hinkley Point in a major debate in Parliament several years ago and I strongly support the views of Senator Grace O'Sullivan on the subject. On the sale of 20,000 mortgages to vulture funds, I wonder if people have forgotten that "eviction" is a dirty word in this country. It is unconscionable that a Government would collaborate in any way in the selling out of the people of Ireland to foreign mercenaries, which is basically what is happening. Not only did these monstrous groups avoid paying tax they also, as Senator Butler pointed out, landed the taxpayer with the costs of rehousing people, leading to the laughable situation where the Irish taxpayer is paying for evictions. It is something we need to look at. The National Housing Co-Operative Bill is on the Order Paper and I gather Deputy John McGuinness will be introducing a revised version. It is something we must face. We have to face down the Department of Finance, which has behaved in an appalling manner in this situation, and the ECB. It is a moral outrage that the ECB should be pushing to have Irish people evicted from their homes as these are the blackguards who got us into this mess by forcing us to buy out bondholders at 100% when they were sold at 5% or 10%.
A group of Senators from different groups had a very positive meeting this afternoon about the decision of RTÉ to cease terrestrial broadcasting of political commentary programmes such as "Oireachtas Report" and move it all online. In a country which has a very patchy broadband network, this is ridiculous. RTÉ should be reminded that it is a public service broadcaster and if it treated any other programme in the way it treats "Oireachtas Report", it would have virtually no people watching. We will be having another meeting next week and it it hoped to invite RTÉ to send a representative. It would be very good if Seanad Éireann could show a united front in regard to this. We should not migrate from terrestrial broadcasting but should include online broadcasting as part of the service. If we can stick together on this we can get somewhere. We faced RTÉ down on the attempted cessation of long-wave transmission, which is of such benefit to elderly Irish people in England.
I call Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor.
I hope I am not out of order but I wanted to second Senator Devine's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I am very indulgent today, so I will allow the Senator to do so.
The Cathaoirleach is very kind and I thank him for that.
I agree with the previous speakers that the proposed loan sale by the bank is a disgrace. It involves 20,000 mortgage holders and people's family homes. We are talking of vulture funds buying those loans when we have a housing crisis, people are homeless and we are trying to make sure families stay in their homes. This proposed selling off of those loans cannot happen. It is a scandal. I will fully support making the case to the Minister that it does not happen. He needs to come into the House to talk to us about this.
The other issue I wish to raise is a local one. We have a major health sector problem as industrial action is currently being taken by psychiatric nurses in St. Luke's Hospital-----
-----because they have had enough and they see patients suffering. There were 50 patients in the psychiatric unit in St. Luke's Hospital last weekend. There are only 44 beds in that unit and six people were accommodated on couches in the television room. That is unacceptable. It is not right for the patient or the staff.
I spoke about this issue to a representative of the community health care organisation, CHO, area 5, which is the Carlow-Kilkenny CHO, at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health Care. I asked what plans they had to put extra beds into the unit, as the Carlow-Kilkenny CHO area has increased as it now also takes in Tipperary. We have fewer beds and more patients.
I was told by the representative of the CHO area 5 that there are no plans to put in extra beds. She told me it would not happen again, it had only happened a few weeks ago, but last weekend the same thing happened. The families concerned feel powerless and see this protest as the only way to get help.
This does not only involve the staff in the hospital in Kilkenny because psychiatric staff in Waterford are also protesting to highlight the lack of resources at their facilities. Michael Hayes of the Psychiatric Nurses Association told my local radio station, KCLR, this morning that the association's members believe that both patient care and staff safety are being comprised.
How can we in 2018 justify that this is happening, that we have psychiatric nurses protesting because patients cannot get the beds and care they need? It is not good enough. Admissions are rising, waiting lists are growing and nobody has the resources to deal with the issue. The HSE needs to be held to account for this. The mental health sector needs money. Mental health is an issue that affects all of us and we need to prioritise it. I will be giving my full support to the psychiatric nurses in Kilkenny and Waterford. The Minister needs to come to this House to address this issue.
The Senator is losing my support by having gone on-----
I call Senator Noone.
I wish to raise the issue of plastics. I publicly support the Green Party's desire to have microbeads outlawed or banned. I understand there is legislation that could come before the House in early course. I have done some research in this area recently. I am only sorry I did not focus on it sooner because it is such a serious issue. I went into a local convenience shop yesterday evening and bought a few healthy options to make a smoothie, not that the Members need to know what I am eating. I bought about €10 worth of items because it is a convenience shop. The only item that did not have a plastic package was the avocado. That is remarkable. Such packaging is convenient for the retailers. The retailers are trying to do us a service by providing us with food but we need to radically rethink the way we are operating in this area. I do not believe any of us necessarily need any of that plastic.
We have seen a good deal of coverage in the media recently about how damaging plastic is to the environment. Many supermarkets have plans but I do not believe they are strong enough, considering the seriousness of this issue. It is very difficult for consumers to go into a shop and buy food without coming home with a load of plastic. Much of that is made up of a variety of different types of plastic. Senator O'Sullivan would be in a better position to speak about this. Many different plastics go into the production of any one plastic item that one brings home. Therefore, they are difficult to recycle. It is an ever-increasing problem. The interesting study on fish life in the far reaches of the north-west Atlantic, carried out by NUIG, found that the fish there have a huge quantity of plastic in their stomachs, and we are consuming that fish.
It is a very serious issue. It is a bit like other issues I speak about in that it will take more than just one approach to deal with it. We are going to have to lead on this. I am contributing to the problem. We are all contributing to it, for example, when we buy bottled water. All of those things have an effect. Plastic must be recycled. We need to start to think more seriously about how we are going to help the environment. I would appreciate a debate on the issue. It is something I have already requested. No doubt the Leader has sought to have such a debate. We need to have a debate on the environment and all parties need to take an interest in the environment.
I agree with what my colleagues said about vulture funds and mortgages. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance to the House. There is an elephant in the room, namely, the Bank of Scotland (Ireland), which has thousands of mortgages here and it has been fined in England for its seriously unbecoming behaviour. The bank has left this island with our mortgages and we have not seen it since. A vulture fund now takes its place and nobody knows what is going on and where, how and who owes what to whom. The vulture fund also got massive write-downs and I want the same write-down because I am one of its mortgage holders. I cannot find my mortgage or anything to do with my deeds.
The problem is greater than that of PTSB but it is a problem for us all. The reason the banks do it is because they get away with it. People are very frightened of debt and of going up against the power of banks, but the banks do not have any power if we are not there or we take them on. I mentioned that in the previous Seanad and said people should take their money out of the banks and put it into the post office and a Labour Party Senator told me that I was out of order and that there would be a run on the banks. The Senator could not see an alternative and considered what I said an appalling thing. I never forgot it. However, that is a debate for another day. I would like the Minister for Finance to come to the House because I would like to outline my concerns about Bank of Scotland (Ireland), which left this island with the mortgages of thousands of people and the vulture funds got massive write-downs which were not afforded to us.
I wish to raise the statistics that were published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund up to the end of January 2018. Some of those figures were published in two newspapers over the weekend. The difficulty is that one can never quite tell to what exact period of time they refer.
There is a slight variance in the two publications that I read in the Sunday newspapers yesterday in that regard. My understanding is that the National Treatment Purchase Fund's latest figures up to the end of January 2018 show that 52,319 children were waiting for an appointment with a consultant. That is a seriously large figure.
Looking closer at the figures I am advised that 15,807 of them are waiting more than one year. The next category of 8,726 children are waiting a longer period, over and above 18 months. That is a really shocking revelation.
I accept there were complications and there may be reasons for some of them but at a time when we are talking about prosperity and the country getting back on its feet again, we must focus specifically on all waiting lists but in particular those affecting children. At some time in the future, when the Minister is back in the House talking generally about health perhaps we could have a segment of the debate on children and the length of time they are on waiting lists and what can be done in terms of increasing the appointment of consultants, bed capacity and whatever is needed. Let us get some guidance and hard information.
The figures have been discussed on the radio today. It is important that we would have some clear facts. Perhaps the first thing I will ask the Leader is to ascertain the current position as of the end of January so that we can compare the figures and then perhaps when the Minister is next in the House a segment of his engagement with us can deal specifically with children and waiting lists.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business.
The proposed sale by Permanent TSB-----
I believe the Leader is suggesting that Senator Norris resume his seat.
I have not suggested anything but I am replying on the Order of Business.
I was consulting a colleague on a matter relevant to the Order of Business.
The Senator should take a seat. It is not good to be wandering around the Chamber.
Nine Members have raised the matter of Permanent TSB, namely, Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, McDowell, Butler, Davitt, Ó Domhnaill, Murnane O'Connor, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Norris. There is absolutely legitimate concern over the proposed sale of the loan book. We had a debate on this on the Order of Business last Thursday. It was initiated by Senator McDowell. All of us share a common concern. All of us want to see the people expected to be affected treated fairly and properly. Nothing has happened yet. Permanent TSB has not consulted the Minister for Finance. It is duty-bound to do so.
He should tell the institution not to proceed.
The Senator should allow the Leader to continue.
All of us here want to protect mortgage holders. That is the bottom line. It is a question of how we achieve that. If Members had listened to the contributions on the Order of Business in the Dáil, they would have heard the Taoiseach outline the Government's position. Deputies Michael McGrath and Micheál Martin have put forward their proposal. The Sinn Féin Party put forward its proposal and suggestions. It is important there is cross-party support to protect those involved. We, as Members of the House and legislators, have a duty to be informed of the facts regarding what is possible, or otherwise, under the law. There is a code of practice that gets transferred on, and protections are in place.
Not at all.
They are not. That is rubbish. Tell that to the people who are being evicted.
I do it the whole time. I meet people the whole time.
The Senator cannot say that to people who are being evicted. They are not being protected.
Senator Norris should allow the Leader to continue.
I meet people the whole time. If the Senator listens to the tenet of my reply, he will realise I am being measured in my response because I share the anger, fury and frustration expressed by Members here. Let us proceed in a way that is constructive, however, so we will have a resolution for the people. Members of both Houses have outlined their concern to the Government, as we have done on this side of the House. The Government stands with the people affected. It stands on the side of the people.
It does like blazes.
It absolutely does.
Allow the Leader to respond.
We support those who pay their mortgages and, as Senator McDowell mentioned in his remarks, those who try to pay but perhaps cannot, for whatever reason. It is important that there is perspective and clarity on this. I am all for a resolution that stands on the side of the person, the family and the mortgage holder.
The Taoiseach gave the Government's position on the Order of Business in the Dáil. An important point we must make here is that none of us wants to see vulture funds coming in here and denigrating and preying on people.
Deputy Noonan did.
None of us does. The Senator might do me the courtesy of listening because I am not against what he wants to do. I am not going to divide the House on a motion on which we all agree. The Minister for Finance is away today and is in the Dáil tomorrow. There is a meeting between Deputy Michael McGrath, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on finance, and the Minister tomorrow. It would be premature to have a debate on the matter today. I would be happy to have the debate next week or on Thursday, if we can.
The Minister is not here today.
The Leader is not listening to me. He accuses us of not listening to him. I called for a debate on Thursday.
The Leader should be allowed to continue. He is trying to explain his position.
I have not got the Minister's schedule for Thursday. I can tell the House what he is doing tomorrow and today. I am not against having a debate but I ask that the motion be deferred, pending a response from the Minister and his office.
That is agreed.
I am not against having the debate but I believe our language is important and that a resolution must be found. We are all against the vulture fund being the winner but let us be sensible in our approach.
There are talks tomorrow. I believe it is premature to have the debate today. I will endeavour to facilitate to have it, if I can, on Thursday. If I cannot, I will inform the House tomorrow. It may not be possible to have it this week, but I will endeavour to have it on Thursday.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of supervised injecting centres. I am not familiar with the exact location to which she referred. It is the first of its type and will alleviate a problem for those most vulnerable in our society. Senator Ó Ríordáin, when Minister of State, and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, were involved in drawing up the legislation and its passage.
The tendering process was examined by an evaluation group comprising the HSE, HSE social inclusion, academic experts, the Garda, Dublin City Council and an external public health expert. Merchants Quay will also be appointing a community liaison worker to conduct an external evaluation of this first pilot project. Its aim is to help the most vulnerable and bring them off the streets to inject in a supervised area. I understand the frustrations of the residents about which Senator Ardagh spoke and that there may be a school near the location. There needs to be consultation about this. Communication is critical in the matter. I am happy for the Minister to come to the House. It is important, however, that it is not just about the leafy suburbs versus elsewhere. We had a similar debate about the location of a wet centre in Cork city. It worked out well. I understand the frustrations articulated by the residents involved. It is about communication with those involved, and being good neighbours is critical.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of tonight's "RTÉ Investigates" programme on St. James's Hospital. It was distressing to hear Aoife Hegarty's report on "Morning Ireland" about the misdiagnosis cases in the hospital and the people affected. It is important to give patients confidence and to ensure our health service is safe. St. James's Hospital and the HSE will outline in tonight's programme what they have done and will do to ensure an appropriate follow-up. I have not got all the information regarding the matter. It is important, following tonight's programme, that a further statement is issued by the HSE with regard to patient safety, how the diagnosis was missed and how we can reassure patients in the future.
The issue of cancer care is an important, delicate and sensitive matter, as many of us know from our own family situations. It also affects friends, neighbours and people in our communities. We cannot afford to make mistakes in this area. I will certainly have the Minister come to the House for a debate on this issue, following the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. It is important to highlight we have a good national cancer strategy and outcomes from cancer treatment are good. BreastCheck has worked superbly throughout the country. The concerns raised by Senator Ardagh, however, are important and I will come back to her again on a different date, following the "RTÉ Investigates" programme.
Senators Freeman, Devine and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the strike by psychiatric nurses in Waterford and Kilkenny. Coming from a family of nurses, I recognise the importance of our psychiatric nurses in our health care system. This evening is a sad occasion in Cork for the family of Oliver Bradley, a psychiatric nurse of long standing, who is lying in repose. I pay tribute to him for his work. This dispute has been well-documented. The issue is around staffing, development of bed management protocol and measures regarding staff dealing with pressures of services. I agree with Senator Freeman that no patient should be in an overcrowded ward, especially in the case of those suffering from mental health issues.
There is an important point to make here. The management, the HSE, in charge of the issue in Kilkenny and Waterford should have the opportunity to engage and to negotiate but should also be able to be in charge of the management and operations within the unit. I am not familiar with all the issues. The Mental Health Commission regulations operate in our hospitals and are the parameters which we should look for and work within. I am sure the Minister and HSE will be able to do that. It is important there is a resolution to the dispute. As a member of a trade union, I recognise the importance of the union and the right to strike. I commend our psychiatric nurses and workers for their work. It is about protecting the most vulnerable and providing a service of care. I appeal to all sides to come to the table and work this out.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Nash, Conway-Walsh, Butler, Reilly, Dolan and Norris raised the issue of Hinkley Point. The potential future development of nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom is a source of worry. We should stand united in our opposition to it, notwithstanding that we do not have any direct involvement in it as a State. As Senator Grace O'Sullivan said, at double the distance of that from Dublin to Cork, 240 km, it is quite close. I commend the role of the NGOs and those who advocate in the context of the potential harm and misuse of nuclear energy and the potential damage it can cause. We have seen the outcomes of that across the world. The important point here is that there is a call for submissions which ends on 17 April and there is an obligation on those who have a view on it to make a submission. The remarks of Professor John Sweeney from Maynooth University are worth looking at and noting. He says that the UK has a blind spot to Ireland regarding nuclear energy. I hope that one of the Ministers, Deputy Coveney or Deputy Naughten, will take that up on behalf of the Government. It is important to highlight the potential dangers and it is our obligation, as a State and a Government, under our international obligations to do so. We are a member of a number of international organisations where we have an opportunity to raise concerns about the activities of, and potential damage caused here by a such a plant. I support Senator Grace O'Sullivan in that call. We have not changed our position as a country but I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to debate it.
Senators Nash and Davitt raised the national development plan. We will debate that in the House next week. I am sure all Members will join in the welcome for the plan and the spend of €116 billion across our country, north, south, east and west. It is a good day for all our people and our country. Nobody in this House will object to the plan or will be negative towards the Government in regard to it. Unlike other plans, Project Ireland 2040 is about our people and delivering for them. I know Senator Devine would agree with me on that.
Absolutely. Senator Buttimer will not hear me saying negative things.
I would welcome the Senator's support.
Do not plan on plain sailing.
Perish the thought, a Chathaoirligh. We will debate that next week. Despite the comments of some Members of the House about spin and so on, last Friday was a good day for Ireland when all the projects were announced.
It shows the vision of Fine Gael and the Independents in government for our people.
Senator Buttimer needs to go to Specsavers if he thinks that is the case.
I am sure the people of Cavan, who Senator Wilson represents, will not refuse any of the projects.
They would need more than Specsavers because it was not mentioned in the plan.
I know Senator Wilson will welcome it with open arms because he is a very fair-minded person. There is €1 billion for rural development under the Minister, Deputy Ring's Department. We will have that debate next week.
On the issue raised by Senator Reilly, I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House to address the matter of Dublin Airport and the appointment of a regulator.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of insurance. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has responsibility for it. The report from the second phase of the cost of insurance working group under the chairmanship of the Minister of State was published in January. It contains 15 recommendations and 29 associated actions.
I am happy to continue the debate we had in the House on that. I will not go into the entire reply other than to say that insurance costs in some cases are coming down. The point made by Senator Gallagher is a very important one.
Senator Devine and Senator Burke raised the issue of the library service research on home care for older people. I would be happy to have a debate on it. It is a very important issue. As Senator Burke said, we are living longer. There are more people over the age of 65 and there will be more again by 2020. I am happy to have that debate in the House.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of the ratification of the UN convention. The debate in the Dáil is happening in the next number of weeks and I am happy to have a debate in the House as well. I think the debate is coming up in the Dáil.
It is scheduled for the middle of February.
I am not in charge of the Business Committee of the Dáil but we will have a debate in this House.
Senator Buttimer has great suasion.
I assure the House of that. It is a very important issue. Senator Richmond raised the issue of defibrillators and his support for Senator Swanick's Bill and for Deputy Noel Rock in the Lower House.
Senator Davitt raised the important matter of the pay and condition of councillors. We will have that debate in the House next week. I will defer to that.
Senator Burke raised the issue of new hospitals. He is right that it is 1978 since the last new hospital was built. The national development plan provides for the construction of six new hospitals which I am sure all Members will support, Senator Devine in particular. We will have that debate as part of the debate on the national development plan.
I missed Senator Norris's meeting today on "Oireachtas Report". I hope all of us can work together to ensure the coverage of the Oireachtas is not downgraded by RTÉ in its movement from terrestrial to online broadcasting. It is an issue on which we may not see a marrying of minds but it is important we continue to advocate for it.
Senator Noone raised the issue of microbeads and plastics. I support her on that. The Bill is moving towards conclusion in the Lower House.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the National Treatment Purchase Fund and the requirement for a debate on it. It is an important issue on which we should have a debate. I remind the House that under the budget last year, the allocation for the National Treatment Purchase Fund was €55 million, which was more than double the 2017 allocation, which was €20 million. In view of that significant increase, it is hoped we will see progress on waiting lists, but notwithstanding that, I am happy to have a debate on the issue of health.
Senator O'Donnell asked for a debate on banking in general rather than just on Permanent TSB. I will be happy to try to facilitate it.
If Senator Devine will allow me to endeavour to have the Minister come to the House this week, I will do so. If not, it will be next week. If she can defer her motion until I come back to her with an answer, I will be happy to allow it. I will not divide the House. If the Senator cannot defer it, I will endeavour to get a Minister but we should not just have any Minister to the House. We need the Minister for Finance himself.
Senator Devine has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Finance on the proposed sale of loans by Permanent TSB be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I will wait for a response but I would prefer to have it by Thursday.
The Senator will withdraw her amendment subject to the Leader coming back to her.
I will not be here on Thursday but I will endeavour through my office and Senator Noone, who is Deputy Leader, to have the matter resolved. If not, it will be next week. I cannot control the Minister's diary. I would rather have the Minister for Finance here than another Minister. He is the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, and it is a serious matter.
The proposed amendment is withdrawn. I thank Senator Devine.