The Order of Business is No. 1, Telecommunications Services (Ducting and Cables) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to be adjourned not later than 1.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements on the sale of PTSB loan book, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than six minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
I would like to raise three items. The first relates to the new national children's hospital and it is a good news story. It relates to the benefits which have stemmed from the community benefit programme, which was knitted into the construction of that project. The community benefit programme facilitates the employment of locals in the area in order that they gain some meaningful employment on the site. I congratulate the members of Dublin City Council on this programme. When I served on that council in 2014 that issue was very much on its agenda. I thank them for keeping with that idea and ensuring the community benefit programme was knitted into that construction project.
To date, 28 people have been employed in professional and skilled roles and that number will increase over the course of the project to more than 100 people. Community benefit programmes such as this one are beneficial to the local community, particularly in this area where parts of it are quite disadvantaged, and members of the community have been able to gain advantages from this programme. I would welcome the roll-out of such programmes on a more national level, especially in light of the announcement of many capital projects last week.
The second item I wish to raise relates to a report that was published by scientists at NUIG concerning the alarming amount of plastics that have been ingested by deep sea fish. These are small plastics which emanate from larger items and also from microbeads which are found in some of our care and hygiene products. The Deputy Leader mentioned in recent days how difficult it is to avoid purchasing items which are not contained in plastic in supermarkets. I call for a debate in this House on the use of plastics in supermarkets. I also call on the Government, as the Deputy Leader did, to move forward its microbeads legislation.
The final item I wish to raise concerns the conflict in Syria. My thoughts and those of the Fianna Fáil group go out all of the residents of Syria's eastern Ghouta region, which is a rebel held region in the midst of its own civil conflict. Residents there have reported they are waiting on death. Many have built tunnels underneath their homes desperately trying to avoid death and trying to survive. More than 300 people have been killed to date, 72 of whom have been children. I understand the Red Cross is urgently seeking to gain access to the area in the midst of ongoing air raids. I call on our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to use whatever influence he has at UN Security Council level to ensure that the resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, which hopefully will be passed in the next day or so, is passed. To date, 1,500 people have been killed in Syria's seven-year war. As a small and peaceful nation, we need to use our influence to do what we can to ensure that a peaceful means can be found to resolve that conflict.
I have been up North the past two days with the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
We met with community groups there and I was blown away. It was the first time I got a good understanding of what is going on up there as a result of the fact the Stormont Assembly is not sitting. Meeting with community groups was an eye-opener for me, particularly on the issue of the Irish language and the passion there is for it, particularly in west Belfast. There are 6,000 children attending the Irish school in Belfast and that number will double in the next few years. It is a part of their identity.
We also met with the Shankill Road community group and when we talked about the issues that impact them, they spoke about unemployment, mental health issues and the impact of the legacy of the conflict. The impact is there are no jobs and very bad housing. Their passion is for regenerating their community. When they were asked about the Irish language they said they had absolutely no problem with it. The Shankill Road community leaflet says that in the PUL community, the Irish language is generally associated with nationalism and republicanism and thereby treated at best with suspicion.
It often comes as a surprise to many to learn that the Lower Shankill Community Association, LSCA, runs a weekly class in Irish language and history. One of the comments by a participant from the unionist community was that the first thing the person learned was that language is neutral and belongs to everyone. The person continued that it is how it is sometimes used that can make it appear political in some contexts.
Will the Tánaiste consider meeting the groups the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement met over the past few days? It is important the Tánaiste listens to the voices of the communities and what they are saying. What they are saying is not what we are hearing down here, particularly from the media. That is really important. What we are hearing down here is not the reality for the communities there. It would be fantastic if the Tánaiste and Taoiseach would meet the community groups that are really struggling and do not seem to be getting heard. The Tánaiste and Taoiseach are doing great work. I admire the fantastic work they are doing on the issue. I admire the fantastic work they are doing on Brexit in particular. It would be great for them to hear the voices of the people in the North.
I support the proposal by Senator Black for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to meet the civil groups and groups involved in the Irish language. It is very important they are heard and listened to. I thank the Senator for raising the subject.
I also commend her on the wards of court report by the justice committee of which my colleagues, Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, are members. It is a very important report. I urge everybody to read it and play their part in implementing the recommendations in it, particularly on the urgency to have the Comptroller and Auditor General oversee the funds. The report is very good and I congratulate the committee and everybody who was involved in putting it together. However, its success will only be measured in its implementation.
The other issue I will raise is one I have raised many times before, namely seaweed and seaweed cutting. We asked a couple of months ago for the Minister of State to come to the House and give us an update on the situation. It is an issue that goes back to last year and the year before when the Minister of State came into the House. When the Minister of State came into the House he said he recognised what needed to be done. We urgently need an update on what has been done and the research and engagement the Minister of State has had with the different stakeholders.
Will the Leader ask the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to meet some of the coastal communities, particularly the Coiste Cearta Cladaigh in Connemara? They have intelligence and experience going back generations of how to manage seaweed sustainability. They have huge concerns about what might happen when licences are given without environmental impact studies being done, particularly on the mechanical cutting of seaweed. It is very important that those who cut seaweed have the freedom to sell it to whomever they like. A natural resource that belongs to the people in these communities should be used for the benefit of the communities. It should only be exploited as a public good to create enterprise and job opportunities in coastal areas. Those who have rights within their folios to the land and to seaweed cutting are also protected. I ask for the Minister to come to the House urgently to discuss this issue and also to engage with these coastal groups.
Cuirim fáilte roimh beirt aíonna sa Ghailearaí a tháinig isteach sa Teach inniu, Helena O'Donnell ón Irish Heart Foundation agus aoi speisialta eile, Martin Quinn. Chas mé leis an Uasal Quinn cúpla bliain ó shin. I welcome two guests to the Gallery, Helena O'Donnell from the Irish Heart Foundation, and Martin Quinn, whom I met a couple of years ago when I spoke at a Tipperary Peace Convention event. Every year it has a conference on peace issues where it gives an international award to incredibly well known people internationally. There have been some very distinguished recipients. Mr. Quinn inspired me initially by how the peace conference was organised. This morning he told us his story of dealing with stroke. He told us he was doing a radio interview to announce that Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, was to be awarded the Tipperary peace award and he could not speak during the interview. He told us how he found out gradually that he was having a stroke. He told us about his determination to overcome the challenge, his speech impediment and his situation to be able to present the award to Malala when she came to the award ceremony in Tipperary later that year. It is an incredible story. He is a man of great determination.
He told us about the frustrations he had in dealing with the health system at the time and the lack of services available to people who suffer stroke. He has asked all of us as elected representatives to do what we can in the Houses to raise awareness of the issue and particularly of the FAST campaign. FAST stands for "face", "arms", "speech" and "time to call" and it aims to make people aware of the symptoms of stroke.
The stroke manifesto launched by the Irish Heart Foundation has also been brought to our attention. It outlines the effects of the inadequate services. It wants to make stroke services available, particularly for younger stroke patients because it can happen to people at any age. It also outlines the crucial role a stroke nurse can play in a hospital so they need to be available. It mentions supports in the community for people.
It is important that there is a debate in this House with the Minister for Health on stroke care in Ireland and the number of people who are affected. Over 7,000 people will be hospitalised as a result of stroke in Ireland this year and at least 1,800 will die. One in every six of these lives could be saved through acute service improvements. It is accepted it would not only reduce mortality but cut health service costs.
Half of stroke patients in Ireland do not receive their treatment in stroke units. There are a lot of very practical issues faced by people. People like Martin Quinn, who has come through an amazing challenge and is now a wonderful advocate on behalf of stroke sufferers, are shining a light on this area and asking us, as their elected representatives, to do what we can to raise the issues, have these types of debates and implement the policy changes that are needed.
An issue relating to the Citizens' Assembly has been covered in the media today. It has been announced that there was an issue with people who voted on 13 and 14 January and the how they were selected. They were the personal contacts of a recruiter. Obviously everybody would agree that the Citizens' Assembly has done a useful job in the past couple of years since it was appointed. However, this undermines its credibility and raises concerns about the constitution or make-up of the assembly. I note the response of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy and that of the RED C marketing company. It is not good enough that this should have happened at all.
Having looked up some details on it, I note that 53 members have been replaced since it was set up in 2016. We need know if this happened previously, possibly on numerous occasions. The Citizens' Assembly made serious recommendations in various areas. We want to know if it was authentic. It was raised here before that five counties were not represented at all. That could happen and it is not necessarily a criticism of it. When it was announced, we were told it would be scientifically made up through people knocking on doors and getting across all the demography of all the different ages and other groups. This is undermining. If the Citizens' Assembly is to continue and get its credibility back, we need to be reassured about how it is made up and how replacements are recruited.
In the past week we have all been devastated at the news over the vulture funds and I know the Minister will be addressing it. I want to bring to the attention of the House a particular case I have been dealing with. It is crucial and I have had several of these. Vulture funds are investment companies that pick the bones of the living. The vulture fund companies need to be regulated just as banks are. They need the same standards and transparency, and most importantly they need to pay taxes on their huge profits. This is a massive issue for me.
These vulture fund companies need to allow local authorities and other Government agencies access to information on properties purchased through distressed loans acquisitions.
We are having a debate on the matter today.
I know that, but I want to bring it up because it is so important. I am aware of a property-----
Does the Senator understand that there is provision to deal with this later on?
I know that but I just want to bring it up now because it is about a house.
This is the Order of Business.
Under the Order of Business, I want to bring it up. I am aware of a property-----
Does the Senator know she will be allowed to make a contribution later on?
I know that. I am aware of a property in Carlow which was purchased as part of a portfolio of a high-profile Dublin property investor sold by the bank, Permanent TSB, to a vulture fund company. This property was wanted-----
I hate to interrupt the Senator, but it is not really relevant to the Order of Business.
It is for me.
Perhaps it is for the Senator, but I am in the Chair, unfortunately, and I am advised it is not relevant.
I am sorry, but for me it is. It is the Order of Business, we are allowed to bring up anything we want, and I insist on bringing this up now.
The Order of Business is meant to be about the Order of Business as proposed by the Leader.
I have discretion and I have been advised. I do not want to have to interrupt the Senator-----
It does mention that the Minister is coming in.
-----when she can make a contribution later on this specific item.
The problem is that I have another meeting. I am hoping to get back in. It is not that simple. I just want to finish this.
Do it quickly, please.
This property was wanted by a Carlow resident who grew up in the property. When he finally tracked down the last owner he was told that Permanent TSB sold all the loans to a vulture fund company. He informed Permanent TSB of his interest in the property and asked for the contact number for this company. The simple reply was that it could not give out information. The result is a derelict house in Carlow which is now damaged beyond repair. The council has had to secure the house to prevent anti-social behaviour. The interested buyer is looking for the information but cannot get it. I believe this story is repeated elsewhere. This house could have been purchased. There seem to be no rules governing how these vulture fund companies do their business.
We cannot have a debate on it now, unfortunately.
They are allowed to trade without regulation and have no issues with lives they have destroyed.
We need to regulate them and tax them. Most of all-----
The Senator is very much over time.
-----we need to get a published list of the properties acquired by them.
The Senator is over time.
This is a very serious issue.
To the Senator, I accept it is.
It will come up later on.
I pay tribute to Andy Lee from Castleconnell, County Limerick, who has announced his retirement from boxing. He won 35 of his 39 professional fights. He was a fantastic amateur and professional boxer for many years. He represented Ireland at the Olympic Games. I wish him all the best in his retirement.
The 34th Limerick Literary Festival will take place this weekend. It is being opened by the journalist, Fergal Keane, on Friday evening. Some very worthwhile contributors will present over the weekend. I know many people here are interested in literature and poetry. If any of them want to come along, they would be more than welcome.
I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for organising this morning's presentation by Martin Quinn about stroke victims in Ireland. His story has been inspiring to us and he highlighted the lack of services.
In Syria, eastern Ghouta has become a hell on earth with 300 people killed in the past four days. Seven hospitals have been bombed and there is deliberate targeting of civilians. It is a hell on earth. I pay tribute to the true modern-day heroes, the doctors and nurses who are overwhelmed and cannot save everybody. I also commend the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières. We need a humanitarian truce and a lasting peace settlement.
Stephanie O'Malley is the CEO of Education Desty. She worked in educational and child psychology services for 15 years.
Does the Senator understand she is not supposed to use names?
Okay. It is in the public domain.
She can deal with the issue without using any names.
She developed a software-----
Do not identify anybody.
-----app that helps to develop children's emotional education. It supports children with additional challenges. She has said that children live happier and better lives when they are offered a chance to develop social and emotional competencies, and they can do this online with this software. As shown in the Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health Care, we realise academia is, of course, important, but the most important is the building of resilience and self-confidence in our children. It is specifically targeted at that. I commend the company and its CEO.
The mother of a friend of mine was seriously brain injured following a fall. She had speech therapy once every two weeks, but it needed much more than that. Her daughter, driven by the need to protect and help her mother with the speech therapy, videotaped the speech therapist who said the same thing week in and week out. She watched that video on a daily basis. I am not suggesting replacing speech therapists with online stuff, but it has been helpful. The HSE needs to make greater use of technology, positively promoting and improving people's lives.
I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Ó Clochartaigh. When I was Minister for Health, we opened stroke units in most major hospitals, which hugely improved outcomes for people. However, far more needs to be done in that regard.
That very much feeds into the point I was going to raise today. Senator Ardagh mentioned good news relating to the national children's hospital. There is also the very good news that plain and standardised cigarette packets are now on shelves in our shops for the first time.
From the end of September, that will be the only form of cigarette packaging available. It is good to see its presence. Anybody with knowledge of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer or various other ailments is aware that smoking is a major cause of such health difficulties. With a view to ensuring that we further denormalise smoking, further protect our children and allow non-smokers the right to eat outdoors without other people's smoke wafting across their meal, I hope to move a motion and bring a Bill before the House to ban smoking in outdoor areas where food is served. I hope to have the support of the House for that Bill. I will be discussing it with the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Thoracic Society, Cystic Fibrosis Ireland and many others.
I join with Senator Reilly in welcoming the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. I again congratulate him on his efforts, along with others, in that regard. I join Senator Conway-Walsh in welcoming the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality regarding wards of court. I hope the Government will implement the recommendations of the report as a matter of urgency, in particular in regard to the Comptroller and Auditor General having oversight of how awards are invested and spent on behalf of wards of court.
When is it proposed to hold a debate on the national development plan? Yesterday the Leader indicated that there would be such a debate but did not indicate when it would occur. I live north of the line from Galway to Dublin, and I do not mean the railway line from Galway to Dublin the closure of which the Minister, Deputy Ross, discussed a couple of weeks ago but, rather, the line north of which all counties were omitted from the draft plan. I am glad that the Government seems to have to some extent listened to the issues raised by my party and others in that regard. However, apart from the announcement of projects that had already been announced approximately half a dozen times without any timescale being put on them, there was no mention of the county from which I come. There was no mention of an extension of the M3, of the bypass of Virginia or of the proposed east-west corridor between Sligo and Dundalk that is vital for the rejuvenation of the area. Whatever Brexit may bring, it will not bring good news to that part of the country which has largely been omitted from the national development plan. I hope that we will have that debate as a matter of urgency.
I welcome and agree with Senator O'Mahony's comments on the Citizens' Assembly. A full evaluation must be conducted of how people were selected for the assembly. We should not have had any such assembly because we already have two assemblies, which are called the Dáil and the Seanad and whose Members are supposed to dictate and implement policy. I would like a review to be carried out as a matter of urgency of how the composition of the Citizens' Assembly was determined.
I join with Senator Black in reflecting on a very important visit to Belfast over the past two days with the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. There are huge difficulties regarding legacy issues and we visited the Wave Trauma Centre and Relatives for Justice in that regard. It was absolutely wonderful to visit Coláiste Feirste, an Irish-language college in west Belfast, and see how important the Irish language has been to the nationalist community. We are in a very difficult situation whereby nothing is happening in Stormont. We met various groups and it was wonderful to meet the Lower Shankill Community Association.
However, having listened to the points of view expressed during the two-day visit, I fear that it will be very difficult to get an agreement in Northern Ireland between the two parties due to the interference of the media. A similar situation can sometimes be seen in this jurisdiction. One show I must mention in that regard is the BBC programme "The Nolan Show", presented by Stephen Nolan, on which there is a sectarian cockfight every morning. It will be very difficult for the two groups or political parties to reach agreement when everything is laid bare and facts are put out there by that programme in the morning. I understand that openness and transparency are necessary and that people must be informed but the various groupings with whom we met raised it as a significant issue that the parties need space and, unless that is given, there will be no progress. I am not saying what is right or wrong but, unfortunately, programmes such as that are unhelpful. A similar situation can sometimes be engendered by certain shows in the South. On many days, my phone rings at 2.30 p.m. and the caller tells me that a certain situation is awful and that they do not know what is happening. I am not saying we should shut down media outlets or anything like that but there should be reflection on the issue. The BBC is funded by British taxpayers and it is doing a huge disservice in getting agreement in the North, which all Members want, and Stormont back working again. It is time to reflect on the right thing to do in that regard.
I support what Senator Feighan has said in regard to "The Nolan Show". It is an appalling programme.
The actor John Connors made a very principled decision in refusing to appear on it earlier this week because of its awful sectarian nature.
I commend my colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh. Several Senators from various parties attended the stroke manifesto meeting and listened to Martin Quinn, who was in the Gallery this morning. I know Martin of old and did some work with him in Tipperary. His story was very moving and he revealed much of which I was unaware. I acknowledge that Senator Reilly did some work in regard to strokes but the inadequacy of our stroke treatment services is shocking. The stroke manifesto issued by the Irish Heart Foundation which I recommend all Members look at because almost all probably have family members who have been affected by stroke - my father was on two occasions - states that "[o]ver 3,000 stroke patients every year are being denied a potentially better outcome because of the HSE’s failure to roll out Early Supported Discharge programmes nationally that could also free up 24,000 bed days a year in our struggling hospital system". Imagine the difference that would be made by having access to those beds. It further states that "[t]he State spends up to 60 times more on nursing home care for stroke survivors than the community rehabilitation services that can keep them living in their homes." It seems to be a fundamental problem in terms of the prioritisation of funding. The meeting was one of the most impressive I have attended since becoming a Senator. It is very important that all Members on a cross-party basis acknowledge that there must be significant extra funding in this area. Without wishing to be contentious, I do not know how one reconciles the extra funding needed with requests by the likes of Brian Hayes, MEP, for a focus on tax cuts in the coming election. One cannot have both. In fairness, I think Senator Conway of Fine Gael a few months ago said that we should forget about tax cuts and focus on investment in our health services and I agree with him in that regard. We must be honest with the public. We can have investment in decent public services or we can have tax cuts but we cannot have both. I call for a debate on the issue.
I wish to discuss mobile phone and broadband coverage in rural Ireland. A report was published yesterday morning by the Ministers at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputies Denis Naughten and Seán Kyne, on the task force launched after the Government was formed to improve mobile phone coverage throughout Ireland. The task force brought together, for the first time, all of the key operators such as ComReg and the local authorities. One of its key findings was that no map had been made of the black spots in rural Ireland. I welcome the Minister's initiative to map all such areas. Last year he put in place a pilot programme to map black spots in counties Donegal, Roscommon, Sligo and Kerry and has now moved to other local authority areas. Mobile phone coverage is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure for which people are looking and this is an important stop to ensure we will have adequate coverage. Local authorities have a broadband officer to ensure this mapping will happen and solutions must be found with ComReg and the providers.
I concur with Senator John O'Mahony in his views on the Citizens' Assembly. It is disturbing to read that there was such a way of picking people to sit in such an important assembly. It is important we have an open debate to discuss what happened and how the membership was gathered in the past few years. Some 53 people have moved off it and we need to know how they have been replaced. As the stories on how they have been replaced are very disturbing, it is important to really examine what has happened. If we do not have clarity, there will be a fear that the assembly's recommendations in the past few years might not have been as transparent as they should have been.
Senator Paul Gavan spoke against tax cuts, but one of the problems in the recruitment of junior doctors to the health service is that they pay tax at the higher rate on earnings above €34,550. Everyone wants more doctors and nurses, but more and more are leaving the country because, under the tax regime, they pay tax at the higher rate on too low a salary. It is time people made up their minds about what they want. A junior doctor has to move constantly and cannot buy a property, but he or she pays tax at the higher rate. The same is true of nurses, representatives of whom were before the health committee yesterday. They want pay increases, but if we do that, we will have to collect more tax. We cannot have it both ways. Do we want junior doctors and nurses and do we want them to pay tax at a high rate on a low income level? I make no apologies for looking for tax cuts for such persons. No one earning less than €40,000 should be paying tax at the higher rate.
It is very important that we put in place a structure to check the implementation of the national development plan. I am very concerned about it, particularly as it affects the health service. Last year I identified 1,600 additional persons working in the clerical and managerial sections of the HSE. I recently sought up-to date information. There are 2,605 additional persons since December 2014 in the clerical and managerial sections of the HSE. There are now more than 17,000 staff in that area, while the number of public nurses has increased by 80, from 1,460.. We need to get our priorities right. I do not want the moneys set aside for the national development plan to be put into administration. I want projects to be identified and a timescale for identifying locations, starting the planning process and beginning the building work. I do not want to see a repeat of what happened in the case of the national children's hospital, which process took 25 years to complete. We need to get on with it. We need checks and balances for every Department and State agency in implementation of the plan. We need to have a debate on the procedures to be used in checking a Department is delivering on the targets set for it.
I reiterate my call of yesterday, a call also made by my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, for the publication of the Crowley report on the murder of Aidan McAnespie. Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary when a number of vigils were held across various towns in County Tyrone. I acknowledge the response of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that he will meet Aidan's family, but it is regrettable that he has stated the Government will not publish the Crowley report on his murder. The call to publish the report has come from parties in both Houses and the GAA family in Ireland and globally which has a deep affinity with and grá for Aidan, with a number of clubs all around the world named in his memory. As this is too important an issue to be turned into a digging match here, I will not do so. The McAnespie family would not want or expect me to do so. I spent the past two days in Belfast with Senators Frank Feighan and Frances Black and others as part of a delegation from the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We met victims and legacy groups. There is massive complexity in the issues of truth, legacy and justice, but the common thread is acknowledgement of the truth and recognition of the loss of a loved one. I do not understand why the Government could appoint Deputy Garda Commissioner Crowley to investigate Aidan's murder and then not publish the report, despite calls from the family and the GAA fraternity to do so. It seems to be a prolonged exercise in cruelty. The report is available and the Government has it. I suggest, too, that, on behalf of the Government, the Taoiseach meet the McAnespie family. The issue will not go away because they will not allow us to forget it. I ask the Government to reflect on this. At its core is a murder victim, someone who was murdered by a British soldier as he was on his way to watch his local GAA team play a football match. It is not about party politics.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the national children's hospital and the community benefit programme, which is very positive. It would be no harm to have something like this considered on a national level.
The Senator also raised the issue of plastics, in which I also take an interest. I am particularly interested in microbeads and understand legislation will be brought before the House in early course. As I am as keen as the Senator to advance it, I will bring to bear any influence I have on it.
What is happening in Syria is horrendous. The people there need to have peace brought into their lives.
The Tánaiste will be in the House on 7 March next for resumed statements on foreign affairs. It is important to point out that people who have already spoken in that debate will not be able to speak again. Senators who have not already participated in the debate will have an opportunity to raise these issues. I hope they will do so. I have no doubt that the Tánaiste is as keen as we are to bring whatever influence he has to bear on the situation, which has been raised by various Senators this morning.
Senator Black and others referred to the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Credit is due to the members of that committee for the work they do. The Senator made the important point that those looking at the situation in the North from the outside see it as polarised and sectarian. That is the way it has been for too long. I must say I am not very familiar with the programme highlighted by Senator Feighan, to whom I will return. I can well imagine the desire on the part of certain presenters to hold on to the fight for the sake of the fight, rather than actually playing some role in potentially helping the problem. I think it is the sectarian nature of the problem in the North that has really presented the problem. It is why we are where we are today. There is no sense in fuelling that. Senator Black suggested that the Tánaiste should meet certain voices. The reality is that those voices are dampened out by these extreme voices. That is what happens in general in life. If the Tánaiste has not already met people like that, I cannot see any reason he would not do so. It is certainly something that could be raised in the context of the debate on 7 March, if the Senator has not already spoken in that debate.
Senator Conway-Walsh concurred with others on the issue of the North. She also congratulated the justice committee on the wards of court report. Senator Wilson also spoke on this extremely critical area. Obviously, the recommendations need to be implemented. I think we would all be ad idem on that.
Senator Conway-Walsh also referred to seaweed. I have a personal interest in seaweed because I think it is a fantastic product with positive components that are good for one's health. It helps with thyroid difficulties, from which many people suffer. It is a brilliant product. Some friends of mine have a cosmetics company that uses seaweed. It is a wonderful product. I would like to think that the people who are closest to it benefit most from it. On the face of it, I would certainly concur with the points made by the Senator. I do not know whether the Senator and her colleagues have raised this issue as a Commencement matter-----
-----but it is certainly something that could be brought up in the context of an environmental debate here. I requested such a debate recently. I certainly think it is an important issue. It might not seem important on the face of it, but it is very important for people in the local area and for the environment.
We need a stand-alone debate on this substantial issue rather than a general debate on the environment.
I will certainly pass on the Senator's desire for such a debate to the Leader. I am sure whatever can be arranged will be arranged.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about a man he met at the peace awards, Mr. Martin Quinn, who is an advocate for those who have had a stroke. Mr. Quinn needs to be congratulated for the physical and emotional strength he has shown in dealing with and highlighting this issue. He has done some service to stroke sufferers. Obviously, there are issues to be addressed in this regard. The Minister for Health is in this House quite regularly. This issue could certainly be discussed with him in due course.
Senator O'Mahony raised an issue relating to the Citizens' Assembly. My understanding from Ms Justice Laffoy and from what I have heard and read in the media is that this was an isolated incident. It happened as recently as January of this year and was highlighted by Red C when it did an internal audit. I think this shows that the company's processes are working for it. That appears to be the case with this incident.
I remind the Senator who spoke about vulture funds that we are having a debate on this issue later. I would like to make a point about the difficulties that arise in the management of the House when people continually raise an issue. I do not mean to be personal about the person who raised this issue because it happens all the time. Some of those who use the Order of Business to call for Ministers to come to the House for debates do not turn up when those debates take place. I do not think that is a good way for us to conduct our business.
We would all join Senator Byrne in congratulating her fellow Limerick person, Andy Lee, on his successful career. She also mentioned a literary festival that is taking place in Limerick this weekend. It is important to highlight that communities and volunteers do substantial amounts of work on such events. I hope this weekend's festival is a great success.
Senator Devine spoke about the stroke issue. She also referred to the need and desire for a lasting peace settlement in Syria. If she has not already spoken on this issue, she will be able to do so when we have a foreign affairs debate on 7 March next in the presence of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Great. I have not spoken on it.
Senator Devine also spoke about Education Desty. It is great to hear something positive about the Internet in this area.
In fairness, the Senator and I, along with various other people, have spoken in recent times about the negativity and all of that on the Internet. There are many positive things on the Internet and it is great that the Senator has highlighted one of them. Perhaps she should request a Commencement debate on this issue so that she gets a direct answer from the HSE on it. She could write to the HSE to highlight it. Perhaps it needs to be made aware of it. If it is useful, it would be an idea to explore the possibility of it being used more widely.
I congratulate Senator Reilly on the introduction of plain packaging. I was certainly a huge supporter of this idea. The Senator made a great effort to stand up to big business on this issue and he is to be congratulated on that.
Senator Reilly also mentioned the possibility of banning smoking in areas where people are eating, regardless of whether those areas are inside or outside. He will certainly have my support as he pursues this proposal.
Senator Wilson also noted that plain packaging is coming into effect today. The first packages are available on shelves, which is a great thing. The Senator also spoke about the wards of court report. To the best of my knowledge, the national development plan, which he also raised, will be discussed next Tuesday evening. That will be confirmed later today when the schedule is issued.
I thank the Deputy Leader.
I congratulate Senator Feighan on his continued efforts with regard to the North over many years. I have already responded to the important issue he mentioned. It does not serve the overall greater good, and the purpose of the people in the North, to be constantly sectarian and adversarial. If two people who will never agree have a good fight every morning, it does not serve the people and the voices about which Senator Black spoke to any degree.
Senator Gavan raised the same issue and also the stroke issue, about which I have spoken. His points are well made. I think a health debate would be a good thing.
Senator Lombard raised the important issue of mobile phone and broadband coverage. We hear a lot of talk about broadband but, as the Senator has quite rightly said, there is little point in talking about broadband if we do not have mobile phone coverage. The Senator also mentioned the Citizens' Assembly, which I have addressed.
We heard sensible words from Senator Colm Burke this morning about junior doctors. He gave us a bit of a reality check. We cannot have it every way. If people want pay increases, we have to get the money from someplace. It does not fall from the sky.
Senator Burke also spoke about the national development plan and provided some figures in respect of administrative staff. I note and share his concerns. His suggestion that we should have a debate on a mechanism for tracking targets is a very good one and should be followed up, if possible.
I understand why Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about the McAnespie family. It is an issue that occurred 30 years ago. It is positive that the Minister has agreed to meet the family, as the Senator has acknowledged. Perhaps the conversation could start from there. I cannot comment on the other aspect of the matter. My understanding is that perhaps it is not possible. I do not want to comment any further. It is for the Minister to have a conversation with the family. He has made his opinion on the issue known.
Go raibh maith agat.