The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Service Superannuation (Amendment) Bill 2018 - all Stages, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, with the time allocated to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, that to all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, motion for the earlier signature of the Public Service Superannuation (Amendment) Bill 2018, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; and No. 3., Data Protection Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken on conclusion on No. 2 and to adjourn after three hours.
Order of Business
I wish to raise the abysmal delivery of apprenticeships by the Government. Last week, a well-choreographed national development plan, NDP, was rolled out in Sligo with a promise of large-scale capital projects being rolled out nationwide. The truth is, however, that these will never be delivered because there is a huge shortage of labour in the country not just in the construction industry, but throughout the health service, the Army and the education sector to name a few. The apprenticeship figures relating to the construction industry tell their own tale. New apprenticeship registrations are 58% behind 2017 targets while only 1% of all apprentices are female. My colleague, Deputy Niall Collins, reported an alarming statistic in respect of the take-up of apprenticeships. In 2017, there were only 121 bricklayers and 63 plasterers with no apprentices in floor and wall tiling. With these numbers in the pipelines, the Government must take us for fools. Where will it get the labour to build all the ambitious projects in the NDP? I would like a Minister to come to the House to describe how it will do same.
The second issue I wish to raise relates to the Government's strategic communications unit. The Taoiseach confirmed during Leaders' Questions earlier today that departmental officials were in charge of the advertising spend for the 2040 development plan.
I would like to know why Department officials authorised Fine Gael election candidates to be included in Department advertising across national and regional newspapers nationwide. It is hard to accept that the Government's strategic partnership arrangements form some sort of arm's length political advertising transaction between the Government and newspapers. I know the Leader has in his possession today various articles from Fianna Fáil Governments and the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition, but these are in fact identified clearly as advertising articles, which is completely contrary to what the current Government is doing with the strategic communications unit. It is clear the Government is using State funds to fund the Fine Gael political machine. This is wrong; it is not right. State funds should not be used as a public relations vehicle for An Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, or the wider Fine Gael Party.
The final issue I would like to raise concerns the storm which we know is on its way from the east. We need to ensure that the Government has made plans for those who are most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and those living alone. We need to ensure that there is adequate emergency accommodation for rough sleepers, that there is grit on our roads for those who have to use our road services, that emergency waterworks provisions are in place and that proper instructions on working times are given to the public. I understand one Minister of State asked people to keep their heat on full blast for the period. However, this is a big call when one does not have the money to pay one's heating bills. In this vein, I call on the Government, as many of our colleagues in the Dáil have done, to commit to provide an extra week of the fuel allowance on foot of this bad weather in order that people, if they are directed to leave their fuel on by Government Ministers, have the money to do so. This is a very important issue and I would like to hear the Leader's response to it. I also call on the Minister to direct the local authorities to leave the heating on for those living in local authority housing schemes who have communal heating schemes.
I wish to raise three issues. The first is the annual report of the Data Protection Commissioner for 2017. The watchdog has clearly criticised Tusla over its record-keeping. I was particularly interested in reading an article about this today not because of Tusla, but because I was conscious and mindful of the Data Protection Bill that will come before us, which is a really important piece of work. I am also mindful of the fact that Tusla would come under the designation of what are called public bodies. An Garda Síochána, the HSE and Tusla are three that come to mind that hold an awful lot of sensitive information about citizens. Because they are public bodies under the legislation that, it appears, will be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas - though let us wait and see - there will be no penalty, no compensation for any breaches in this regard. The legislation we are considering will give them a slap on the hand if they breach data but, unlike other organisations and private bodies, there will be no sanction. It will be a poor day's work if we let this through the House. I am putting that down as a marker and I intend to raise it later. It is a very important point. I wish to put it on the record of the House that we have to be seriously concerned that there will be no sanction regarding the HSE breaches or An Garda Síochána or Tusla.
Getting back to what the watchdog said about Tusla, he has issued 59 findings against Tusla and is asking the agency to report back on them. Let us see what happens. This is a serious issue. To put it in context, he received 2,642 investigations and complaints in 2017. This represents a major rise in complaints, but I suppose we can tie that down to the amount of knowledge about data retention and data protection.
I thank the Leader for arranging for the Minister of State with special responsibility for local government to come before the House tomorrow to discuss councillors' pay, remuneration and conditions. The Leader did give an undertaking that he would do this. I am delighted that the Minister of State responsible for this area, local government and councillors, will be here tomorrow and I think this will give us a great opportunity. I saw a few emails sent around today to elected members, city and county councillors, from all sides of the House, so I look forward to hearing what those Members of this House will have to say tomorrow in line with that communication to those members.
Finally - and I will be very brief on this - I said I would stand up every week in the Seanad to raise the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire until I finish here.
In January 2017, 12 beds were closed. We were given a commitment they would be open within the year but they were not. We had the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health out turning sods for the new phase 1. As we also saw all of this being announced as part of Project Ireland 2040, I do not know what they are talking about. There seems to be double-counting there and we need to look at this. I have arranged for a parliamentary question to be asked on it. I spoke to the hospital this morning and six of the beds remain shut, at a time when people waiting for rehabilitation services are holding up beds in acute hospitals. Will the Leader make it a priority to talk to the people who matter? I intend bringing this up once a week as long as I am here.
I will begin by referring to the weekend's march for truth that took place in Belfast. I flagged it when the event was first announced by victims' families and campaigning groups, and I encouraged Members and those available to attend it. I went on Sunday. There were thousands of people on the streets of Belfast, the vast bulk of them victims and survivors - people who have lost loved ones during the course of the conflict in the North. Some of them are very well known in the public discourse and many of them are lesser known. People carried portraits of mothers, brothers, sisters and fathers. The striking thing for me was to see people my age and younger carrying portraits of grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles. Sadly, those young people of my age and younger must again lift the mantle for their families in campaigning for truth and justice. Many of them simply want an inquest into the murder, killing or loss of their loved ones. I noted that thanks was given from the stage to the Irish Government from the families for its steadfast support for the campaigning groups for victims. On Sunday, they urged the Irish Government to remain steadfast in championing the rights of victims who have lost loved ones in the conflict, many of whom came on Sunday from every and all backgrounds, including people who had lost loved ones at the hands of the British state, republicans and loyalists. It was heartening to see but it is a great shame it had to happen.
I also noted the call from the stage for the Irish Government to publish the Crowley report into the murder of Aidan McAnespie.
It is something I and colleagues from Fianna Fáil have raised in the House. I have no doubt we will continue to raise it. I referenced it last week so I will not go into it in any great detail at this stage.
I note too, with regard to the broader issue of victims and where it sits in the current political discourse in the North, that the victims' commissioner in the North was on the BBC this weekend and restated that no political agreement per se from the latest round of talks was necessary and that an Executive was not necessary in the North for the legacy money to be released, for which the Lord Chief Justice in the North has been calling. I call, through the Leader, on the Irish Government to reiterate to the British Government that there does not need to be any delay in releasing the funds for legacy inquests and that the call from the Lord Chief Justice, who is impartial from politics and sits separate from everything else that is happening in the current context, should be heeded and fulfilled.
I welcome, and I am sure the Leader noted it also, the call from more than 100 voices from within civic unionism to come together in a space around equality and a discussion on equality and rights. Many of them are very eminent figures within the unionist tradition. They stated issues of rights and equality are not issues for nationalism or unionism, as they are just issues for all of us. We are here to try to create a space in institutions such as ours, and perhaps we should consider, through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, creating space for representatives of that civic body of unionism to come to the Seanad and address us on some of the issues they raised.
I wish to speak today about Permanent TSB and the sale of mortgages to vulture funds.
It was announced over the weekend that Ulster Bank proposes to sell 7,000 mortgages. There is now a stampede by the banks to sell mortgages before legislation is enacted. I welcome that the Government proposes to abstain in the vote tomorrow on Deputy Michael McGrath's Bill. I thank Deputy McGrath for introducing that Bill and I also thank Deputy Durkan for the Bill which he proposes to bring to the Minister on this issue. It is about time something was done.
Last week, when people contacted Permanent TSB to find out if their mortgages were to be sold they were told that they would receive a letter in due course if their mortgage is to be sold, which is very nice of them. It cannot be legal for these lenders to sell loans to vulture funds without the permission of borrowers. That could not stand up in a court of law. The vulture funds have been getting their own way in this country over the last five or ten years. Legislation to address this issue must be enacted.
Permanent TSB previously sold off mortgages to Springboard Mortgages Limited. In cases where borrowers were paying interest only, Springboard increased the interest from 3% or 3.5% to 6.5% and it dragged those who could not pay through the court system. If, owing to the sale of these mortgages, people lose their homes it will be the taxpayer who will foot the bill.
The taxpayer will also have to pay the cost of eviction.
Yes. A constituent of mine whose loan was sold to a vulture fund offered to repay €500 per month but it was refused and she and her family were evicted, following which she was housed through the housing assistance payment scheme at a cost to the taxpayer of €700 per month. The State owns 75% of Permanent TSB yet the taxpayer is to be left to clean up its mess again. I would like the Minister to come to this House after the vote tomorrow or early next week to discuss the way forward.
I want to address a very serious problem in our child protection system and, in particular, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report which suggests that we are not doing our job in terms of child protection in Carlow, Kilkenny and Tipperary. Young people are being left at risk because standards in these counties are very weak.
Last November, HIQA undertook an inspection of these services which are operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in respect of which it identified five failures. At that time, the service had a waiting list of 213 children and families in need of initial assessment. Even worse, HIQA inspectors discovered that the waiting lists were not being effectively managed, leaving children at risk. The report outlined that the systems in place to alert gardaí are not robust enough and it also called into question the quality of the screening of families that are referred to the services. Network checks with other professionals and appropriate contact with parents were not routinely undertaken as part of the screening process. The report identified a failure to carry out background checks and, most worryingly, there was a lack of speed in following up some allegations of physical abuse of children.
I have heard from service users that the system is broken but to read in a report that there was concern about multiple referrals of the same children but there was no joined-up response from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, was shocking. These vulnerable children did not receive a consistent response in line with the national and local area procedures. They were not given a family response and their safety was compromised. This is an incredible failing. It is absolutely disgraceful. The Minister is not doing her job if she does not throw her whole weight behind sorting out this problem. There needs to be an immediate spotlight shone on the services in these areas, including my own county, Carlow, as a matter of urgency. The plight of these families has to be highlighted and standards need to be radically improved. We are not looking after those in need when we are not listening properly. There must be change and an urgent audit nationwide of these services.
Like other speakers, I encourage everyone to check on their elderly neighbours over the next few days. It is important that we do not forget to call on them and on people with mobility issues. In addition, I call on the Minister to provide additional funding to these vulnerable people.
Before I came to the Chamber today I noted that the President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, has announced that he intends to stand for re-election in 2020. In any democracy it is great that the people know in advance that their President intends to run for a second term. We all know that I have decided to put my name in the ring in the forthcoming presidential election in Ireland but until such time as we know-----
That is news to me, but the Senator may continue.
The truth of the matter is that the people of this country are entitled to know the direction in which this country is going. They are entitled to be told in advance and in plenty of time. Playing cuties with dates in July when people are on holiday and dropping rumours-----
In terms of protocol, we have a long-standing rule in this House that the President's office is above reproach. Any criticism of what he may or may not wish to do should not be enunciated in this Chamber.
I am drawing on a statement that the current President made in 2004.
I ask the Senator to be careful not to trespass onto forbidden ground. We have a long-standing protocol in that regard and I ask the Senator to be cautious in what he says.
Everybody knows that I hold the President in the highest esteem. He has done a wonderful job but that should not prevent us from discussing the position. It should not prevent us from discussing the need-----
I will have to rule against the Senator if he persists.
I will not push the Cathaoirleach to rule against me. I have made my point.
The Leader will no doubt be aware that a group of retired Defence Forces personnel have come together to express their concerns about the Defence Forces. I have met the Minister of State and he has been quite forthright in what he is trying to do but we need to have a debate with him on some of the issues of concern to the aforementioned group. I will leave that in the Leader's capable hands.
I note that the engineering and technology event, Limerick for Engineering, that was to be held in Shannon Airport this coming Thursday and Friday has been cancelled due to expected adverse weather conditions. However, it has been rescheduled for next week.
Over 2,500 primary and secondary school students have been encouraged to attend this event which is related to innovation and entrepreneurship. It is being hosted by Shannon Airport and the Shannon group to whom I wish to pay tribute. The fact that there is a shortage of engineers has been discussed at the Oireachtas education committee and in other fora. At the aforementioned showcase event more than 30 businesses will outline to students what they can achieve if they choose to become engineers. This is very important for the future development of these students. Under the auspices of the Irish Technology Leadership Group, ITLG, many American based companies will interact with students with regard to innovation and developing new solutions, which is to be welcomed.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we take No. 22 before No. 1. Item No. 22 is the Sinn Féin Bill entitled the Arts (Dignity at Work) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018, which is, "an Act to enable the Arts Council to ensure that funding is contingent on compliance with employment law and for that purpose to amend the Arts Act 2003; and to provide for related matters".
I commend the women in the arts who have come forward and told their stories and who have contributed to a watershed moment. I commend Grace Dyas for her bravery. However, we should be crystal clear about the fact that unacceptable behaviour, toxic masculinity and the abuse of power are not solely confined to the arts. Those who suggest this and paint this as a picture facing artists alone are mistaken.
Everybody deserves a safe culture and environment at work. We are told by Government that laws are already in place but there are legislative opportunities for us to explore, of which this Bill is one. The national and global conversation that is ongoing has not been followed up by action. In that context, Sinn Féin believes that by attaching the allocation of funding to compliance with the law, we can fast-forward a change in culture and in harassment.
When the State gives contracts or funding to organisations, it should expect the highest levels of workers' rights. Irish Actors Equity released a survey of the theatre sector in which 60% of those surveyed stated that they were bullied and 75% of that number expressed a fear that reporting such bullying would jeopardise their employment. I respectfully ask that the Government support this Bill. The State must do more than simply provide workshops on governance. Those who exploit workers will not be swayed by the presentations announced by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I again respectfully ask that the Government support this Bill.
That proposal must be seconded in due course. I call Senator Davitt.
I want to talk today about a town the Cathaoirleach himself knows quite well - Mullingar. Quite an unsavoury piece was written in today's edition of the local newspaper, the Westmeath Examiner. To build the background, and as the Cathaoirleach knows, when one comes into Mullingar from the Dublin road one passes the Mullingar Park Hotel, which has a fabulous convention centre - one of the finest in the midlands - and a health club and spa. Having passed the hotel, one sees the new National Science Park, which was previously the tobacco factory. We talked about that factory 18 months ago. It was closed and has been reopened by the businesspeople of Mullingar. Gary Moore and the guys from TEG and Mergon are in there. They are hoping to create 100 jobs there in research and development. It really is a flagship building and a flagship project for Mullingar. After that, one passes the new Curraghmore school, which is being built, and the new local shopping centre, which is also being built on the way into Mullingar, before one reaches the town itself where the canal is. As we are aware, in the town there are three fabulous hotels and there are approximately 20 restaurants and 20 coffee shops within the canal which encircles the town.
I was quite disturbed to read in the local Westmeath Examiner this morning that Mullingar has been described as unkempt, neglected and degrading by a Senator in this House. I got many phone calls about the article. I was very disappointed to read it, to be honest. Senator Norris is correct, one would not have to look any further than Senator Norris. I mean Senator Craughwell.
I have never maligned Mullingar in my life.
Senator Norris should have.
Senator Craughwell has described Mullingar as all these things. In fairness, Mullingar is in the top section of the Tidy Towns competition. It also has a very active town team. It has a full-time chamber of commerce and is one of the few towns that has been awarded a purple flag. As I have said, I have talked to several business leaders in Mullingar town and they have told me that they were shocked and disgusted by this article. As an active businessman and member of the business community in Mullingar, I ask Senator Craughwell to rethink his piece in the paper. It would certainly be appreciated by the people in Mullingar. I ask him to amend it or to apologise. If one cannot make a good comment about a place it is not worth making any comment at all. We are very disappointed that the Senator has seen fit to run down our town.
That is a matter which Senator Davitt might take up directly with Senator Craughwell. I am not sure how appropriate it is to the Order of Business. I will let the Leader deal with that in due course.
I wish to raise an issue referred to in an article on the front page of today's edition of the Irish Examiner, which reported on the measles outbreak in Limerick. It identifies 18 out of the 20 people affected as having not been vaccinated. It highlights the importance of vaccination in that whole area. The uptake of measles vaccination over recent years has decreased. We need to reach a target of approximately 95% vaccination in order for it to be fully effective. It is disappointing that the uptake has decreased by so much. What has now occurred in the Limerick area highlights its importance. It is time for us to encourage both the Minister for Health and the HSE to put an appropriate campaign in place to help highlight the importance of this vaccination. There is also good news in respect of vaccination. The uptake of the HPV vaccination programme has increased in 2017 compared with 2016 and now stands at 62%.
There is a programme due to operate again in March and April encouraging parents to have their secondary school children vaccinated. Hopefully that percentage can continue to increase. Vaccination helps to prevent particular infections or diseases occurring and it helps to reduce demand on our health care system. It is important that we encourage everybody to avail of the vaccine when it is available. At this stage it is important that the Minister and the HSE organise a major information campaign on these two areas. I am aware that a lot of work was done in August, September and October on the HPV vaccine. This needs to be done again to continue to grow the number of people who will avail of the vaccine. It is a very important issue and is something we should be encouraging.
I agree with my colleagues in Sinn Féin who raise the question of Aidan McAnespie. It is shocking that a young man on his way to play a game of football was shot by a soldier. They have tried to maintain that it was a ricochet. It was nothing of the kind. One of the British soldiers who was there said how shocking it was. This young man had to pass through that checkpoint twice a day on his way to and from work. His unfortunate mother used to go with him to try to protect him. It is utterly shocking and it displays a grotesque lack of discipline on the part of the British Army. I am disgusted by it.
I also refer to Senator Butler's comments on the vulture funds. I no longer call them vulture funds. Vultures do a good job of cleaning up flesh from the corpses of dead animals. The people in Ireland who are being attacked by the vulture funds are alive. These people are living and the vulture funds are picking the flesh off them. I call them vampire funds. Will the Leader explain how these entities got charitable status within a week? When I was chairman of the James Joyce Centre it took us several years; umpteen hoops had to be jumped through and we had to produce certificates of this, that and the other before we gained charitable status. How are these people, who produce no benefit to the society or the economy of Ireland, allowed to get charitable funds? What precisely do they do that is charitable in any legitimate meaning of the word? I have already spoken at length about this matter.
This issue is also affecting people who have paid their way with their mortgages. Just yesterday I listened to Charlie Weston on the wireless. He is the financial correspondent with Independent News and Media. He has never been behind with one red cent of his mortgage yet he received a letter, which was unsigned, from one of these mortgage funds called Proteus Funding. The letter directed him to go to a Garda station with his passport to identify himself. This is a hell of a cheek. I would like to know the status of this situation and if the Government is going to do anything to remove charitable status from these blackguards, otherwise we will be paying for the evictions, we will be paying for the rehousing of people and these funds companies will not pay any income tax at all on their profits.
I second Senator Warfield's amendment to the Order of Business.
A media report today looks at the increase of primary school children enrolling in Catholic primary schools. I have brought this issue up as a Commencement matter with regard to our local Educate Together primary school at Canal Way in Dublin 8. The headlines would have people believe that parents are choosing to enrol their children in Catholic primary schools. It is, unfortunately, because a cap has been put on Educate Together schools. Parents have no choice. My Commencement matter for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, was about the issue of choice, albeit for an individual school in Basin Lane.
However, the issue is not just local, but national. The cap has been placed on all developing schools throughout the country. I know of at least six or seven of them and parents have no option but to send their children to the Catholic school. Some 96% of our primary schools are run by the Catholic orders.
I would like the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to attend the Chamber so that we can find out how we will accommodate the increasing and overwhelming demand from parents for their children to be educated in an Educate Together school where the ethos is that of a learning centre that values democracy for parents, pupils, teachers and the boards. I would like him to respond to how we will progress this divestment from the church to our primary schools and the plans in place, because this has been an issue for a number of years.
Canal Way Educate Together national school was given a ten-year lease and six years remain on it but it is not allowed to do any repairs even though the school is practically falling down. The church still has a hold over those buildings. Eighteen years ago I was involved in the setting up of the first Educate Together school on the South Circular Road at Griffith Barracks. This was very successful even if they were tough times. We got it from the OPW and not the religious orders. I would like to see more of those schools meet the demand of parents for an all-encompassing education.
I know that the issue of councillors' pay and conditions will be discussed with the Minister tomorrow evening but I will not be able to attend the Chamber for the debate due to a family bereavement. Therefore, I note that I am glad the debate is to take place because it is an important matter.
Many Members of the House are in regular and close contact with our local authority members throughout the country. They do a fantastic job. Their pay and conditions were changed and these changes mean that the majority of them are out of pocket regarding mileage, making a bad situation even worse. Local authority members who stood for election for the first time on the last occasion tell me they are not in a position to contest the elections again. They cannot afford it.
These are young people with responsibilities such as those associated with mortgages, child care and the general rearing of families. They cannot afford to be local authority members any longer. This is a disgraceful situation that throws their hard work in their face and makes their situation even worse.
I hope the Minister will address the matter in a meaningful fashion. I appreciate the time he has given to the Chamber tomorrow night. Many contributions will be made across the House. I hope that we can move forward tomorrow night with these concerns being addressed fully.
I thank the 13 Members of the House for their contribution to the Order of Business. I join with Senator Ardagh in calling for the expedition of the apprenticeship programme. Ireland has a deficit of apprenticeships that has been well documented. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, have been to the forefront in the action plan for apprenticeships for 2016 to 2020 and 26 new apprenticeship applications were approved. We have an aim of having 9,000 apprentices registered by 2020. Therefore, there is a clear pathway. Eleven new apprenticeship programmes have been developed and approved since 2015.
Every time I listen to Senator Ardagh speak about apprenticeships and the construction sector, I wonder if I am living in "Dallas". Am I like Bobby stepping out of the shower and awakening from a dream? I remind Senator Ardagh-----
Five hundred houses a year since Fine Gael has been in government.
I did not interrupt Senator Ardagh.
We get the spiel every time we mention anything.
Allow the Leader to respond.
The Leader has been responding with the same nonsense since-----
The Senator has had her say and the Leader is entitled to respond. I have to control the Chamber, so let him respond.
It is fact, not nonsense, that the Fianna Fáil Party in government caused the collapse in the construction sector. It is fact, not nonsense, that people in the construction sector lost their jobs and thousands of men and women were forced to emigrate because there was no construction sector. That is fact, not nonsense.
There is still no construction sector under Fine Gael. Nobody has houses.
There was no work. There was no construction sector for a decade.
The Government has had seven years and children are being reared in hotel rooms.
It would behove Senator Clifford-Lee to listen rather than come in-----
I listened to the same nonsense.
Before I responded she used the word nonsense. I know it hurts Senators over there to hear the facts, not alternative facts, the real facts.
It does not hurt me at all. What hurts me is hearing of those children in hotel rooms.
Thankfully, this Government and the last Government restored our country with the help of the Irish people. There are more people back at work and there is a construction sector that is beginning to re-emerge from the doldrums of a decade, a lost decade caused by Senator Clifford-Lee's party in government and nobody else. We had to rebrand and reconstruct FÁS as SOLAS, following the mess the Senator's party in government created with FÁS in respect of the construction sector. Now we are working with industry to ensure people are back at work in the construction sector. I agree with Senator Ardagh, it is absolutely important that we prioritise construction apprenticeships because skilled craftspeople and others are needed to work in that sector. That is what this Government is doing. There is an action plan for apprenticeships under the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton.
That is what this Government is-----
In respect of the communications unit, the Members opposite do not like good news. There are €116 billion worth of good news projects for every community, town, city and county. Which one would the Senators not welcome in their communities?
State money is being used to pay for Fine Gael election propaganda.
Which one would the Senator not welcome?
That is not the question.
Which one would she not welcome?
The issue is State money being spent on Fine Gael election material.
The Senator should cast her mind back.
Senator Buttimer is purposely not responding to that comment.
I bring her mind back to her venerable great leader's role and that of the former leader and Taoiseach in the national development plan 2000. It is the same thing.
It was marked as advertising.
It is a question of communicating, informing, letting people know.
The editors of local papers have found that.
If Senator Clifford-Lee objects, and I know she is upset about it now-----
I am not a bit upset.
If she objects to any of the projects-----
-----that are being promised for her area she should tell the people why she is against them and she should not be coming in here with a phony, fake war.
If the Leader is going to have an interaction I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes. This is happening every day. The Leader is talking to Senators. He should address the Chair in responding and not be baited. Senator Clifford-Lee should please allow him to answer. She can come back tomorrow and condemn his answer.
I am replying to the Order of Business.
Otherwise this Order of Business and our dealings will descend into disorder and that is wrong.
I am replying to the Order of Business.
The Leader should try to avoid personal commentary.
Sometimes Members do not like to hear the good news. That is understandable because we have good news to tell people but we have a very clear separation between the fourth estate and Members of the Government and of the Oireachtas, and that is how they should do their business.
In keeping with the previous national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, there was no communication with members of local media or local newspapers the way the Senator purports. It was quite the opposite. The instruction was that this was in partnership with the Irish Government, in keeping with what Fianna Fáil did when it was in government, travelling the country, advertising on the backs of buses or in newspapers. They went around the country with their policy units. Senators Clifford-Lee and Ardagh know that quite well.
I agree with Senator Ardagh and Senator Murnane O'Connor that we must encourage all the elderly people and those most vulnerable in this time of an impending cold weather alert not to be afraid to turn on their heating. We will all work to ensure, whether through special needs payments, the fuel allowance, or by whatever means we can, that people do not feel they cannot put on the heating. I appeal to all in this House to cast aside their political baggage, ideology and rivalry to ensure that all the elderly and most vulnerable have access to heat and can be properly taken care of.
Senators Boyhan and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of data protection. The Bill will be discussed in the House later and we will be debating the issues raised by Senator Boyhan with the Minister. The issues the Senators referenced about Tusla are worrying, because it is the organisation charged with protecting the most vulnerable young people in our society and it has a responsibility to ensure the findings of the HIQA inspection report are acted upon. I understand that Tusla has responded to the issue. It is important to recognise that Tusla has made changes but it is not good enough when a report by an independent group such as HIQA highlights key issues of concern. All of us want to ensure the safety of our children and to ensure they are protected at all times. I do not have an answer on the question about the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, but I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Norris and Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Aidan McAnespie's killing. As Leader of the House, I join with the two Senators in condemning his death. If one listened to the "Miriam Meets" programme last Sunday, one could not but be moved by the powerful testimony of family members about what happened and how Aidan McAnespie was treated. It is unbelievable that a young man travelling to his own GAA club should be the victim of a tragedy like this without any recourse to justice for the family. It beggars belief that at one level, it is claimed that his death was caused by a ricochet bullet when - as other Members have pointed out and as was said on the programme last Sunday - there was an ongoing campaign of harassment involving Mr. McAnespie. The Minister for Justice and Equality is committed to ensuring that the truth is found. He is examining all options that might be available to assist the family. I know, having spoken to the Minister, that he is concerned that there is disquiet about what may or may not have happened but the bottom line here is that it is important that the truth is uncovered for all victims and families of victims of the violence on both sides of the divide, and equally that we have reconciliation whereby we can bring our country forward again.
The Minister could start with a declaration that there was no ricochet.
I am committed, as is Senator Craughwell, to ensuring that we find truth. It will not bring young Aidan McAnespie back, but obtaining justice will give his family some solace. I join with Senator Ó Donnghaile in saying that the issue of equality is important for the North, and particularly the issue of marriage equality.
Senators Butler and Norris raised the issue of Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank, and we had two debates in the House last week on the issue; it was in the Order of Business twice and the Minister was in the House last Thursday. The Minister is committed to working with all sides to ensure that we find a way forward so that we can have certainty for families, homeowners and landowners in the case of the use of the non-performing loan book. It is also important to recognise there are many people who are paying their mortgages, struggling to pay and working through their issues with the banks. The State should work with those people as well and they should not be forgotten in this debate. The issue is being taken seriously. The Minister has met Deputy Michael McGrath and there is a willingness to work to ensure that we do find a way forward. The Minister has asked the Central Bank to look at the situation.
Is anything being done about the charitable status?
I was of the view that it was being investigated. I join with the Senator in saying that there is no way that we should allow vulture funds to have permanent charitable status. That is not what the Act was set up for. Charitable status is not about vulture funds being able to piggy-back and to write off tax, in my opinion-----
-----and it should not be allowed to continue. I know the Revenue Commissioners were investigating that, but I would really hope that the situation does not pertain where vulture funds are able to obtain a write-off by virtue of a loophole or a section of the Charities Act. They should not be able to have charitable status.
The Cathaoirleach has ruled on the matter of an tUachtarán. I believe that as a democracy, it is open to all citizens, provided that they can fulfil the eligibility criteria and secure nominations to run for President and provided they are over a certain age. I certainly believe that is an option that should be looked at.
By the same token, I would not support President Trump in his bid for a second term. That is probably not in order on the Order of Business.
It is a matter for another jurisdiction.
It is not our jurisdiction.
He might not be there for a second term. He may be gone for his tea.
I hope he does not go for his tea just yet, but I would not like to see him re-elected. His first 12 months in office have been littered with bad decisions and poor governance. The issue of An tUachtarán is a matter for himself. I very much hope any candidate who obtains the necessary criteria can run for election. A democracy is about a contest.
It is very difficult for an individual. It is skewed in the interests of parties.
I accept that. I admired the tenacity and bravery of Senator Norris during the last presidential election campaign in first securing the nomination.
I thank the Leader.
I believe we should have a contest for the Presidency of our country. I know the Cathaoirleach may rebuke me for that.
I am not familiar with the issue raised regarding retired members of the Defence Forces. I will be happy to talk about that after the Order of Business.
Senator Byrne raised the very important issue of an engineering technology event due to take place in Shannon tomorrow which has been cancelled. The initiative is one we should welcome and embrace because it is not just about primary and secondary school students being able to avail of opportunities. Recently in Cork three women, Gillian Keating, Ruth Buckley and Caroline O'Driscoll, produced a very important initiative called I Wish which is about the STEM subjects, namely, science, technology, engineering and maths, and the need to have more women involved in all of those subject areas. I agree with Senator Byrne that it is important that we promote and advocate for girls and women to study these subjects and go on to different careers.
I would be happy to accept Senator Warfield's amendment to the Order of Business. We should give consideration to working with all sides of the House to ensure that there is protection for workers in the arts. His points were well made.
I will not weigh in on the comments made by Senators Davitt and Craughwell on Mullingar, other than to say it is a fine town and a place I have visited on a number of occasions.
Senator Burke raised a very important issue raised by Senator Byrne last week, namely, the measles epidemic in Limerick. The fact that some 18 of the 20 people affected had not been vaccinated highlights the need for an ongoing campaign to promote the importance of vaccinations and immunisations because they work. Those who say they do not are doing a disservice to young people and young women in respect of the HPV vaccine. Senator Burke referred to the HPV vaccine uptake having increased to 50%, which is something we should support. All of us in the House support the campaign by the HSE and Department of Health on vaccinations.
I have addressed the matters raised by Senator Norris. In respect of the matter raised by Senator Devine, the Minister will come before the House in the coming weeks on the issue of divestment. It has been raised on the Order of Business a number of times and there was a Topical Issues matter on it. The Government is committed to delivering on the commitment in the programme for Government to deliver 400 multidenominational and non-denominational schools by 2030. That is the Government's plan. In some cases things are taking longer than they should, but the point she raised is one that we should all work to see achieved. There should be diversity and choice, and a different model of delivery should be achieved. We will have a debate on that soon.
I fully agree with Senator Clifford-Lee on the pay and conditions of councillors. We had a debate on the matter in the House last week. She is right to raise the point and it is one we should all support, irrespective of politics. Councillors are the vanguard of local government. They are foot soldiers and policymakers. They are employed on a part-time basis, but in reality they work on a full-time basis. They deserve to be paid properly. I agree with the Senator.
I accept the amendment from Senator Warfield to the Order of Business.
Senator Fintan Warfield has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.