The Order of Business is No. 1, Childcare Support Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and that of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, statements on Northern Ireland and the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, that of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time may be shared, and with the Minister to give no less than six minutes reply to the debate; and No. 62, motion 14, Private Members' business, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the advertising campaign that was axed, as outlined in the Irish Examiner? The fact that two out of every five people in Ireland know someone who is experiencing domestic violence is obviously a concern for everybody but another concern is how taxpayers' money was used in formulating a campaign that has since been pulled because obviously it is not fit for purpose. One key issue is that approximately 28% of people suffering from abuse, abusive relationships and domestic violence are separated from their partners and the abuse still goes on. One issue - it comes back to housing believe it or not - is there simply is no place for people to go when they are suffering in a domestic relationship which has turned violent and abusive. As well as outlining what went wrong with the advertising campaign, the Minister might outline what strategy is in place to assist those women who need to move out of the family home with their children. Many of them are facing little or no choice other than moving into the house of a friend, relation or family member. In some cases, tragically, they must sleep in their cars to avoid the abuse they are suffering. The current statistics are that Women's Aid dealt with 21,451 calls last year, of which domestic violence issues accounted for 15,000.
While the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is coming to the House to discuss the Good Friday Agreement and its 20th anniversary, there is also the issue of the undocumented Irish. Promises were made by President Trump on St. Patrick's Day in the White House on a reciprocal arrangement on visas for the Irish in the US and for US citizens here. We on this side of the House introduced a Bill in 2012 to give to US citizens who come to Ireland, and who find it extraordinarily difficult to get work permits to stay in the country, 10,500 visas a year. Our hope is this would be the basis for a reciprocal arrangement with the United States. The Irish Pastoral Centre in Boston, led by Kieran O'Sullivan from my part of the world, does extraordinary work in helping the undocumented Irish. This is in light of the increasing numbers being deported, with 50% to 100% more undocumented people being arrested and deported from all communities, including the Irish community in the United States. This issue needs to be addressed. The window of opportunity that was afforded to the Irish Government by President Trump on the St. Patrick's Day visit needs to be pursued in terms of turning that promise of doing a deal between Ireland and the United States into a reality in the time available to us.
Will the Leader arrange to have a debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy? It is timely and appropriate that we should keep the focus on Rebuilding Ireland. I am involved in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is an excellent committee chaired by Deputy Maria Bailey, and a lot of work is going on there. It is central and critical as housing is a major issue. Everyone agrees that health, housing and education are the three major issues that need to be focused on. It is important that this House has some update from the Minister on the Rebuilding Ireland plan. I want to focus in particular on several issues. The Minister deemed it necessary to have two summits, whereby he summoned all 31 local authority chief executives to the Custom House to discuss the housing crisis. We know there is a housing crisis. I checked with the Department last night and the Minister has failed to publish targets. He undertook that he would set ambitious targets for the direct build and delivery of social and, more importantly, affordable housing in each of the 31 local authority areas. I have seen them and they are not ambitious, which is an issue I want to debate. That schedule and list has not been published.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister to publish the list of the targets set for the 31 local authorities without delay and I will issue a statement to the press later today in that regard. There are substantial landbanks within State ownership, be that through councils, port companies, education and training boards, health boards or other State agencies, and we need to maximise the potential of these lands for direct build and for the provision of social and affordable housing.
I have no personal ideological or political hang-up as to who builds houses for people. It could be the private sector, the semi-private sector, public private partnerships, local authorities or whatever. We want houses built and we want to reduce the unacceptable waiting lists for people who want homes within their communities. I acknowledge that a lot of work has been done. I would like the Minister to come in and update us and the Leader should use his influence in government to have published within the next few days the list setting out the delivery targets for social and affordable housing as set by the Minister as a result of these summits.
I intend to circulate a resolution of this House to the effect that Seanad Éireann requests the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to delete Standing Order 41. This will be seconded by Senator Boyhan and I will make it available for all Members to sign, which I sincerely hope they will. I understand this matter has been referred by the committee to a Dáil committee on finance. I find this quite extraordinary. It seems there are many Sir Humphreys in the network. The first loyalty of all the servants of this House, including ourselves, should be to Seanad Éireann, not to Government and certainly not to the Dáil. I find it quite extraordinary that this matter should be referred to a Dáil committee. This House controls and directs its own business and that is as it should be. The two Houses should be independent of each other. I have done a little bit of research and I have discovered that the Seanad established under the 1922 Constitution had the ability to make recommendations, just as we now do on the finance Bills. We make recommendations. That is the same thing as amendments. However, in 1937 the late Mr. de Valera, who was a very remarkable politician, said that he thought that there might be some reason to reconstitute the Seanad as long as the Dáil kept it under its thumb. I do not think that is a sentiment which would find much of a positive response from any Members, including Fianna Fáil Members, today.
For the record, the matter has not been referred to the Dáil for decision. It is still with the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I do not think the Dáil will have any final remit with regard to the issue raised. It is still a live issue at the committee and I am sure the Senator will be updated shortly on where we are going with it.
I thank the Cathaoirleach very much.
Senator Norris can take it that the Dáil will not be telling the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges what to do on that issue.
I am very glad to hear that. I hope that at some time in the near future, the Cathaoirleach will be able to advise the House as to the progress of this matter because I would not like to see it delayed endlessly. I am afraid this notion of referring it to the Dáil committee has an element of delay to it that I do not welcome. This is an opportunity. We have heard so much talk about the reform of Seanad Éireann and absolutely nothing has been done. This is a small way in which Seanad Éireann, directing its own business, can make a significant reform to the business of the House. As I have said, Members from every side, including practically every Member of this House, have complained bitterly about having amendments rejected on the grounds that they created a charge on the Exchequer. I am only talking about getting matters fully discussed in Parliament and I think every Member would be able to support that.
Today I raise the issue of the fodder crisis. While it is being discussed later on this afternoon, due to bereavement I have to head west. I will just make three brief points on it. If the Minister is serious about supporting agriculture, he needs to immediately instruct the payment of all outstanding payments to farmers. I refer not only to GLAS payments, but to all of the other payments. This would mean a huge amount to farmers, particularly farmers in the west who are really struggling to survive at this time. There is no reason whatsoever why these outstanding payments cannot be made. I urge the Minister to make them and to make a commitment that he will have them paid by the end of the month.
I also ask him to suspend all inspections for the moment because of the awful weather we have had. There is no point in inspecting farms at this time, when farmers are in crisis mode. Those inspections can be delayed and it is within the Minister's capacity to do so. I also appeal to the co-operatives not to take advantage of the fact that the demand for hay and silage is so high and to be considerate of the fact that the customers they have in those farmers are reliable customers who support them year after year and month after month. Obviously the voucher system, for which we have been calling since last October, needs to be implemented by the Minister. It would have been simple for him to do that. A framework needs to be in put in place whereby something will be ready when we again have crises such as those caused by the really inclement or savage weather we have had in order that a button can be pressed and farmers can be helped in their time of need. As one farmer put it to me yesterday, there is no use in telling the cow that she will be given a bale of hay next week. It just does not wash. I ask for those things to be done.
The cow does not speak English.
Probably not. Not as well as Senator Norris anyway.
One would have to meet the cow.
Agus tá Gaeilge flúirseach agam freisin.
Can we return to matters of relevance?
The other matter I want to bring up is very simple. I want to the Taoiseach to come to the Seanad to discuss why he withdrew the Trans-European Transport Network, Ten-T, projects in respect of the west and the western rail corridor. He owes us an explanation. He needs to tell us exactly what is being put in place now in order that the available EU funding can be availed of and that the projects will be on both the core list and comprehensive list again. People in the west are really concerned that we have lost out on opportunities for EU funding for these projects which are vital to the sustainability of the west.
I want to share my experience of the emergency department. Last Tuesday night my sister, Mary, was very sick and was taken very ill. She was given a letter by her doctor stating she had to go to the emergency department immediately. She had a condition called Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which is like shingles in the ear and with which there is a very strong possibility of losing one's hearing or having one's face paralysed. In any event, I brought her into the emergency department. She was as weak as a kitten and she sat in the emergency department. Eventually I got a very nice nurse to bring her in and get her on a trolley because she was about to faint. It was at 8 p.m. last Tuesday evening that she was admitted. We knew by the letter which she had been given that she had to be put on intravenous antibiotics straight away. Unfortunately she did not get to see a doctor until 7 a.m. the next morning and did not receive antibiotics until 8 a.m.
I am not just talking about Mary. What I really want to talk about is what I saw in there. It was like something out of a war zone. That is the only way I can describe it. The poor doctors and nurses were trying to walk around trolleys. They could hardly move with the trolley situation. The old people there were crying out in pain and crying out for their loved ones. My heart went out to the doctors and nurses. At one point I pleaded with one of the nurses to try to see if we could get Mary on this antibiotic. We were worried because she could lose her livelihood if she lost her hearing. That is what we were concerned about. The poor nurse told me that they did not even have her chart yet.
I repeat that this emergency department was like a war zone. I do not know how the doctors and nurses manage. The nurse with whom I spoke was glazed over and almost traumatised by the amount of work she had to do. Could the Minister come to the House to give us an update on the progress being made in emergency departments in hospitals all over this country? One old woman broke my heart. She was so frightened. She did not know where she was or what was going on. Another man came in with a heart attack while another woman was screaming for the nurse to come and help her but there were no nurses available. They were run off their feet. Hopefully, Mary will be okay. She has just got out of hospital. I would like to ask the Minister to give us an update on the progress being made in emergency departments in hospitals all over this country.
The Republic of Ireland Act came into force on this day 69 years ago. This Act declared a republic, because of which we were automatically excluded from the Commonwealth. Two weeks later, the rules were changed to allow republics to be members of the Commonwealth. India availed of that but we did not. That is for another day.
I attended the Goliath Trust gala in the Europa Hotel in Belfast last Wednesday. It is helping to tackle educational disadvantage and lack of achievement in Northern Ireland. It was a wonderful night with various people from all backgrounds coming together to tackle educational disadvantage in Northern Ireland. One aspect of the night caught me unawares. Sometimes the political parties are unaware. I am referring to Bertie Ahern's speech. He said one thing to the two main parties in Northern Ireland, which was to stop the messing. It was greeted with a round of applause from the 500 people there.
I would send a warning to the two main political parties in Northern Ireland. Sometimes in politics, we are behind the curve. That night and Bertie's few words were greeted well. He sounded a warning. Perhaps it is now time to get together, particularly on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. I was in Queen's University the previous day. The Agreement was something we should celebrate. Perhaps it is a wake-up call. I understand there are issues but it could be a wake-up call to the two main parties, as Bertie said, to stop the messing. It is not often that I agree with Bertie Ahern but on this occasion, he got it absolutely right. The reaction of the crowd at the gala told me that the people in Northern Ireland want the assembly to sit. I hope the two main parties can come together with all other parties to set up the Stormont assembly again.
Yesterday, Senator Craughwell referred to the number of personnel leaving the Defence Forces. Both of us are nominated by PDFORRA, the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations so we are well aware of what is happening within the Defence Forces. I second the Senator's call for a debate in the House with the Taoiseach and-or the Minister of State with responsibility for defence. Our most valuable resource is our Defence Forces. It is defending our country. We have one of the top armies and navies in the world in terms of their loyalty to the State. I wish fair sailing to the officers and crew of the LÉ Samuel Beckett which has been deployed to the Mediterranean as part of Operation Sophia to follow up on the excellent work carried out by the LÉ Niamh during the previous mission. I wish Lieutenant Commander Eoin Smyth and his crew of 54 a very safe and successful mission to the Mediterranean.
We should be very proud of the work they are carrying out on our behalf. They are putting themselves at risk for the sake of refugees. They have a tremendous track record of saving lives. If the media takes note, both the Army and Naval Service are now recruiting. The closing date is 22 April. A person has to be under 25 to join the Army and under 27 to join the Naval Service. There are good opportunities there for young men and women to join our Defence Forces and I would encourage them to submit their application as quickly as possible. I wish them success.
The points raised by Senator Craughwell are very real. We have 1,094 personnel and eight ships, which are mainly deployed for fisheries protection. Some of the ships are undermanned. The Leader comes from the Haulbowline area of County Cork and I am sure he has a lot of contacts within the Naval Service so I ask him to arrange an open discussion to report on progress and where we can increase the number of personnel in our Defence Forces.
One does not get a chance to respond to the Leader's response at the end of the Order of Business. Yesterday, he put up a sterling defence of the pay rise given to the Department of Defence people. Indeed he was correct. It was a 24% increase, not 25%. This means that 84.12% of members of the Defence Forces are 7% worse off than every other worker in this State based on averages. We also learn that if a serving soldier from the rank of captain and below has three children, he or she qualifies for family income supplement. A commandant and below with four children qualifies for family income supplement so it is hardly a gold-plated career.
Let us look at strength. With effect from 17 April, the 7th Infantry Battalion had one colonel, of one, three commandants of five, two captains of eight and three lieutenants of 11. It is 64% deficient. The 6th Infantry Battalion, Athlone, has one colonel of one, two commandants of five, four captains of eight and two lieutenants of 11. It is 64% deficient. The 28th Infantry Battalion at Finner Camp has one lieutenant colonel, two commandants of five, five captains of eight and three lieutenants of 11. It is 56% deficient. The 27 Infantry Battalion in Dundalk has no lieutenant colonel of one, one commandant of five, three captains of eight and two lieutenants of 11, one of whom is a second lieutenant. It is 76% deficient. The 2nd Artillery Regiment has no lieutenant colonel, two commandants of five, two captains of eight and one lieutenant of 11. It is 79% deficient. If one is telling me that the Defence Forces are in a solid state, I am afraid somebody somewhere is telling porkies.
I asked for the Taoiseach to come to the House and address the crisis that is the Defence Forces today. We are all very good at seeing them march up and down outside the GPO and pinning medals on their chests. The truth is that the Defence Forces are being run into the ground. These are decent men. Recruitment has fallen by 55% since 2016. I really do think we have a crisis. I join with Senator Leyden in asking for the Taoiseach, who is the de facto Minister for Defence, to come here and debate these issues. Unless we do something, we will not have our Defence Forces. I will release additional information over the next few days. The information I have given this morning is empirical. It is not something I dreamt up. It is empirical.
Who gave it to the Senator?
It is based on a submission to the Public Service Pay Commission so it is not something I am dreaming.
This morning's edition of "Today with Sean O'Rourke" contained one of the most profound and heart wrenching interviews with a young doctor and her husband. She outlined a story which I will not go through because the point I want to make to Senators arises from it.
The story related to the loss of her child at 28 weeks. The child was not going to survive outside the womb and she went to England to give birth. What I heard on the radio - if Senators have the opportunity, they should listen back to it - was a discussion about profound sadness and bereavement in respect of the loss of that young life. I ask that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs come before the House. When we discuss the eighth amendment, how the people will, should or might vote and the legislation on the termination of pregnancy, whatever decision the people make, we must speak about the profound loss and bereavement that accompanies such decisions. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, spoke well about family planning, contraception, counselling and sexual health in the context of legislation. However, very little is being done regarding bereavement counselling, mourning counselling or the outstanding and lifelong grief that family and their children were experiencing as a result of the woman's loss. I recommend that Senators listen to the interview. The woman in question was not judgmental in any way. She was just telling her story.
In my report on dying, death and bereavement in Ireland, I mention how all of us are affected by this - 100% of our lives and 100% of the time. The report contains recommendations as to what should happen with families, mothers, fathers and children when life is lost. Life will, for whatever reasons, be lost under the new legislation. I want to see the development of services relating to bereavement, counselling, mourning and grief for our young people. Those services should be there in parallel to the legislation, whatever shape it takes. I would like the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House to discuss this matter. I would also like her to take on board my recommendations, which relate - in the context of every sphere of young people's lives, of education, of teaching and of family life - to how we can and should deal with this matter. A loss such as that experienced by the woman to whom I refer will be with her and her children for the rest of their lives. She was completely outside any judgment.
I congratulate the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, on his tenacity and determination in getting the Government to accept his recommendations on redress for the Magdalen survivors. The previous attitude was one of reluctance. Ultimately, it was aimed at limiting the numbers of those who might qualify for redress. It was also mean-spirited in nature. Yesterday, however, the Government and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, indicated and acknowledged that to exclude specific cases was a mistake. I welcome this more constructive approach; it is long overdue. There is a need for compassion towards women whose only crime was being poor and vulnerable and who were considered and treated as being worthless by society. I ask that the Minister come to the House to outline how the Magdalen survivors might be afforded redress. There is a particular need to establish timelines. Many of those affected have already died, while others are in their later years and do not have much time left. I also ask that the Minister inquire of the HSE as to how many patients are still languishing in long-term care facilities, such as psychiatric hospitals or in nursing homes, particularly as these people do not have a voice and are unaware of the redress scheme. I have been asking about this matter since 2012 when I was a local councillor. The people to whom I refer need to be included, supported and guided. They probably need guardians to be appointed to take care of these matters on their behalf.
I want to challenge the populist rhetoric of Deputy Darragh O'Brien of Fianna Fáil at the weekend in the context of the housing situation. Personal attacks on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, or the Taoiseach do not get us anywhere. If anything, what was said at the weekend about these members of the Government displays ignorance on the part of the Deputy in question. It is easy to play the blame game in respect of housing. The issue of housing is very serious. The housing crisis does not just affect people from one socioeconomic background. Regardless of whether they are working, people face a challenge in terms of finding affordable houses they can either rent or purchase. More and more, it is becoming evident that there is no divide regarding this problem. The idea that one has to be from a certain socioeconomic background in order to find solutions or to have the will to serve the people is utter nonsense. However, it seems to fit into a certain populist rhetoric.
It would be better if Deputy Darragh O'Brien sought to hold local authorities to account. For example, this year alone, the capital budget for the construction of house has risen from €307 million to €638 million. On the other hand, very little social housing is being built. The lack of construction of social housing is impacting on the entire market. As a result of it, people who should be in social housing are trying to find private rented accommodation. The latter is placing increased pressure on that sector. Until 2010, 6,000 social houses were being built each year. The question that arises in this regard relates to what local authorities are doing with the funding to which I refer. Fianna Fáil controls a significant number of local authorities. Is property being acquired for the construction of social housing? Have the appropriate personnel been hired in order that local authorities might have the relevant expertise available to them to allow them to build houses? Questions have to be asked at this stage. The Government is not going to build these houses. From a statutory point of view, as housing authorities, councils have an obligation to build houses. Why are they not doing so? Why are they not being held to account by councillors from other parties who have been very critical of the Government regarding the lack of social housing. We have gone beyond the point whereby this matter is being treated as a political football. There are solutions available but the must be implemented. The local authorities need to play their part and Deputy Darragh O'Brien needs to begin with the representatives from his party who are members of those authorities.
Before I call the next speaker, I wish to acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of representatives from the Historical and Reconciliatory Police Society, known affectionately as the HARP Society. The society comprises former and retired members of the police forces in the Republic and Northern Ireland and its representatives are our guests in the Seanad today. They are very welcome and I hope they enjoy their visit.
I was going to speak about another matter but I cannot let Senator Mulherin's comments on housing - and some of the inaccuracies they contained regarding county councils - pass. Ultimately, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government calls the shots and provides funding for the councils. The previous Minister - he held the portfolio for some time - and current Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, was before the House in respect of this matter. He is a fine individual and comes from a fine political family. At the time, however, I told him when he was here that his plans and the way in which he intended to spend his Department's money would not solve the housing crisis or improve the supply of housing. That proved to be the case. The facts and figures regarding what the then Minister provided when he held the position speak for themselves. I have not commented once on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I afforded him due process and allowed him to get his feet under the table. However, he has been in office for ten months. In today's newspapers, the best he can come up with in the middle of a housing crisis is to talk about rogue landlords and refer to this matter as a priority. I have never heard such rubbish in all my life.
Absolutely. Hear, hear.
Fine Gael should face up to the problems that exist. There are simple reasons for what is happening. Those in the construction industry have spoken to us and have suggested a reduction in VAT. This was done in the case of the hotel industry, which has been revolutionised as a result. Why not examine this suggestion?
In the context of social housing, the reality is that costs have gone through the roof because houses need to be A-rated and engineers have to oversee their construction. A lot of land was dezoned under the spatial strategy. There are many things that make the delivery of housing much more expensive.
Local authorities are not spending the money.
I did not interrupt the Senator. I know she is worried about trying to win back her seat in the Dáil. Costs have increased dramatically and there is only one way to reduce them. Even if we do not want to take a chance and talk about developers, money and all the rest, we should seek to reduce the cost of social housing.
Social housing involves a set cost. Builders can provide such housing. When Westmeath County Council redeveloped the Ennell Court estate recently, it cost €200,000, less VAT, to renovate some of the houses. That is crazy when one considers that the council got the sites for nothing. The figures do not add up. That is why builders are not engaging. There is also the fact that the banks are not supporting them. We need to get our heads out of the sand. That is the reality. We are all here to work on this together. We supported Fine Gael with similar proposals on a previous occasion. There will have to be a serious rethink in respect of a reduction in VAT as the only way forward on this issue.
I congratulate Joy Neville on becoming the Rehab sportsperson of the year. Joy is from Limerick. She is a neighbour of mine and I know her well. She may not support the same rugby club as me but her brothers do. Joy played for Shannon and UL Bohemians, as well as Munster and Ireland This latest accolade adds to her Grand Slam achievements in the past and her 70 caps for Ireland. She has shown great commitment. When she was awarded the title of sportsperson of the year on Sunday evening last, Joy said she was dedicating it to all young sportswomen. The message she gave to them is that they should dream and achieve.
There have been many reports recently, however, which have highlighted the lack of participation in sport on the part of young females. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to a debate on how we can encourage future participation of females, especially young females, in sport? Many reports on this issue encouraged the Minister for Education and Skills to make physical education a compulsory subject in schools, which I welcome. We should have a debate on how we can encourage further participation of young females in sport.
I second Senator Byrne's request that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport attend the House for a debate on supporting the participation women in sport. I was a surfer when I was growing up in Tramore, County Waterford, and I recommend more participation in sport.
I welcome the Government's announcement last week of plans to construct 42 new schools in areas of need across the country. Since then, however, we have heard many reports of the serious issues facing the principals, boards, teachers, parents and students in the 575 schools awaiting delivery of previous commitments to refurbishment, repair and expansion. Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills to represent my colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, who has been fighting for the Balinteer Educate Together national school, Dublin 14, as it tries to get its premises improved. I heard from this and other schools about the problems this causes. One in particular, Gaelscoil Chnoc Liamhna, County Dublin, has been waiting 22 years for the delivery of new school buildings. Trish McGinley, the chair of the school's board outlined to RTÉ's "Drivetime" on Friday the effect such unfathomable delays have had on the staff and pupils at the school, as well as the incredibly poor response they have received from the Department of Education and Skills in this regard.
I was contacted by Tramore Educate Together national school, County Waterford. The population of Tramore is rising exponentially. When I was a child, it was 3,000. In the 1990s, it rose to 6,500. In 2016, it stood at 10,381. Fortunately, the Minister recently turned around a proposed constraint on class intake. While this was welcomed, the school needs to move to a new site. There is land available close by and the Department has proposed that the school will have to split classes between two sites. This is not good for health and safety. I will raise this as a Commencement matter soon.
I am hearing from many schools about the lack of communication from the Department regarding building projects. Will the Minister for Education and Skills come to the Seanad to discuss the lack of communication between the Department and schools?
I want to raise the issue of equal parental rights and the family rights of children with same-sex parents. Three years ago, many Members of both Houses stood in celebration with the LGBT community as the announcement came from the RDS that the civil marriage equality referendum had passed. The legislation that gave effect to marriage equality, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, affords equal rights to same-sex couples who wish to have children and form families. It has been three years since that historic legislation was passed by the Oireachtas. However, Parts 2 and 3, which confer equal family rights for those who can only conceive through assisted human reproduction, have to be yet commenced by the Minister for Health. While we claim that in this State all family formations hold equal esteem before the law, there are many stark realities that face these families, aside from simply not having equal status to others. There are realities such as preventing a family from applying for an Irish passport and citizenship for their child, preventing the child from accessing his or her parents' estate if they pass away intestate and preventing a parent from making emergency health decisions on behalf of a child in the case where the other parent may be out of the country.
I, like the Leader and many others, have been seeking certainty in respect of this matter for some time. I am saddened that I and many others have been fobbed off by the Department of Health with deadlines which have been consistently missed and responses which have not been transparent or reasonable. In that context, I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to call on the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain this delay, which has gone on for too long without any rationale. I do not do this lightly. However, given that I have attempted to get clear answers through different Oireachtas avenues on this issue, the Department seems unwilling to give them to me.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House?
Several people referred to the delivery of housing. It is important to note that in the context of the delivery of student apartments, over 2,600 bed units have been provided in the past 18 months. Another 5,000 are under construction and the target is 21,000 units by 2024. This will remove approximately 5,000 houses from student accommodation and make them available to those working or families. The delivery of social housing is occurring but I accept that delivery is not fast enough. We seem to have a problem with procedures right across the system, from agreeing that social housing should be built to navigating the planning process to proceeding to commencement and on to getting the work done. The position needs to be reviewed. Last Thursday, I attended a launch in my former local authority area in respect of the completion of 52 new houses and the turning of the sod regarding construction of a further 47. That is just one of nine ongoing projects in Cork city. The last time I had a Commencement matter on this issue, the Minister announced the provision of €39 million in funding for seven different projects involving the construction of 134 houses. That was a welcome development. I make no apologies for bringing the Minister in and ensuring that projects are followed up on. Local authority members and management, the Department and the Minister all have a part to play in that regard.
When the downturn hit the construction industry, there was a significant loss of jobs. Between 2008 and 2011, over 200,000 jobs were lost. We are now back to having full employment. We have a problem in the sense that the construction industry has not returned to the same level of production, however.
Our challenge is to ensure we have an adequate number of people with the skills and expertise necessary to increase the level of construction. This is a challenge we need to consider. It might be worth bringing the Minister to the House for a debate. Let us be positive, in that the jobs have been created here in other areas and we need to consider the challenge in the construction industry and how we can bring in the people with the relevant skills and how we can get the private sector moving at a far faster pace. We must also examine how we are currently delivering local authority and social housing.
I also wish to raise one area of the 2040 national development project, namely, the healthcare sector. Last week, the Department of Education and Skills announced plans for the building of new schools and it will set out the programme for the next four to five years. An important issue in the health service concerns me. Under the last Government, by which I mean the Administration prior to 2011, it took more than 25 years before the children's hospital was even started. I am concerned that we have set up a clear programme for the building of new hospitals. We need to bring the Minister for Health before the House to set out how this programme regarding the building of new hospitals and the new healthcare facilities will be implemented, the timeline in each case and a clear programme of action. I am concerned that it may fall between two stools, that is, between the Department of Health, the HSE, local authorities and so on. It is something we need to look at and something on which we should hold a debate.
I also want to address the school builds. I will ask for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House, if not tomorrow then early next week. I second Senator Grace O'Sullivan in this regard. I have significant concerns about promises being made that seem impossible. Last week, while the schools were on holiday, an announcement was made that a large number of new schools, 42 of them, would be built across the country.
The schools were open last week.
The schools were on Easter holidays the week before last.
They were back last week.
Well, the week before that. Many of them were on Easter holiday.
I ask the Leader not to antagonise the speaker.
I am just giving information to the House.
Some 42 schools were announced.
The Leader's can assist when he replies, he should not interrupt others.
What about the schools that are incomplete? What about the 30% increase in the use of prefabs between 2015 and 2017? I am sure that the Leader will address that now. Good schools are surviving in substandard accommodation and it is not good enough. The current school building programme is not keeping up with demand. This led to a massive increase in the use of prefab classrooms.
You were in power.
Yes, I have the figures.
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, promised to construct new schools but at the same time deferred vital building works aimed at reducing the need for prefabs. This needs to be addressed. A message was being given that there is a commitment to finish long-promised plans for schools, for the prefabs to be finished and for there to be new classrooms. However, there is no action whatever. For example, in Carlow we are told that two long-promised schools are 90% complete but they sit idle. These schools were being built by Carillion and the Sammon Group. With 90% of the work done, the works have stopped. The Minister has said there will be a review. I ask that he come before the House and that he ensure there is a review and that these works are finished urgently.
Subcontractors are deeply concerned about money and work, parents are concerned about their children's destination and pupils who are finishing primary school and want to attend the new second level in Carlow, Tyndall College, are worried about more than their entrance examination. Moreover, staff are worried about the environment in which they are forced to teach. It is a mess which needs to be sorted. There needs to be clarity on this before promises of more schools for more students are made. I once again call on the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House tomorrow or early next week to clarify these issues, especially in respect of prefabs.
I thank the Senator.
A school in Bagenalstown has been promised a sports hall for years and is still waiting. It has nearly 700 pupils. Many other works remain to be done and we need to get them finished. It is great to see new schools being built but the Minister also needs to deliver on his commitments to the other schools on which he is not delivering.
It is rhetoric.
If the Senator is concerned, her party can always put them out of power and go to the people and see how that goes.
Sinn Féin can prop them up afterwards.
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an leasú atá moltha ag an Seanadóir Warfield don Ord Gnó. I formally second the amendment to the Order of Business moved by Senator Warfield.
As we are having statements from the Minister later, I will not dwell too much on the theme of the Good Friday Agreement but I wish to respond to some of the remarks made earlier. I was somewhat amazed to hear Fine Gael Senators laud the advice of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, notwithstanding how he entertained us greatly at the celebrations of the Good Friday Agreement. However, I want to continue to challenge the narrative that has crept into this Chamber and elsewhere that the current situation in the North derives from two problem parties or parties not getting on-----
-----or it would be as simple as going in and sorting it out.
It is not quite that simple, and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who is a very nuanced, considered and thoughtful man when it comes to the North, unlike some of the Members here, conceded that it was much bigger and broader than that and much more complex. As we mark 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, it lays out the path of what should happen in instances such as this, namely, for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to be convened.
When people make assertions that two parties need to just get on with it-----
Hear, hear. They should do.
-----I wonder what exactly that means, when we had an agreement only a few months ago. Two parties did not walk away from that agreement; only one party did so. It is easy for people to fall into the lazy narrative of playing politics in here but sometimes we must deal with the facts. That draft agreement was a compromise agreement. Republicans in Sinn Féin compromised in respect of that draft agreement. It was not a case of two problem parties that could not get along or sort it out, it was one party which walked away from it. As Senator George Mitchell and President Bill Clinton said as recently as last week in Belfast, the onus falls on the two Governments, as is laid out in the Good Friday Agreement, to be more directly involved, to assert themselves and convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. That is a much more considered, necessary option available to us. I want to see the Executive back up and running, I would have liked to have seen this some months ago, but in the absence of that, the onus falls on to the Leader's colleagues and the British Government also.
There is a two-hour debate this evening. People raising this matter will have ample time to speak later.
I rise to commend Shannon Airport, from which Norwegian Airlines will operate a daily service to Stewart International Airport in New York. Shannon Airport now has six airlines which fly to seven destinations in America. We regularly hear about Dublin Airport being over-capacity and not having enough room, whereas Shannon airport has excess capacity. We are a small nation. Our network is very good and when the M20 is built it will be even better. People will be able to travel to Shannon to fly abroad. I ask that we invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come to the House to have a wide-ranging debate about using our resources in the best way possible. People go to Dublin Airport on buses straight from Limerick, while we have a local airport capable of a much greater capacity. We should look at ways to encourage people from Dublin and other regions to use services in Shannon. Perhaps something needs to be done in Government policy because Shannon Airport is now independent. It is not a matter of funding; it is about policy. Dublin Airport is discussing building another runway. We forget how small an island we are. I ask that we invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House and we can have a structured debate.
Senator Norris made reference to what the Seanad can do. These are the type of debates I would like to see. It pertains to policy. Being a former Member of the Dáil, I find the big difference is that issues are debated at length here. The Senator was speaking about Seanad reform. One area in which one could do that is to consider ways whereby a certain share of Bills would start in this House. We may have differing views but we saw how the alcohol Bill was debated here in great depth. These are the areas.
The Leader should ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come in before the House. We could double the capacity in Shannon Airport. Why do we not look at it in terms of balanced regional development? At the same time, we are speaking about building another runway in Dublin and I question whether it makes economic sense for the State.
I acknowledge the contribution of my colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, regarding where we are going with a national strategy on connectivity. He mentioned the issue of Norwegian Airlines cutting the winter flights. The airline has done that in Cork as well. The winter flights from Cork and Shannon are not happening this season. That has a major knock-on effect for both the tourism sector and the self-confidence of the region. It is important to have this debate about regional development, what we will do with Project Ireland 2040 and how we will develop the country. If we are to develop Dublin Airport to its full potential and put a second runway in there, we must ensure that the other airports are protected. We have a motorway journey from Cork to Dublin of two hours with buses going on the hour, if not on the half-hour. That connectivity is there. What we need is a connectivity to ensure that the airlines will work appropriately and will come into these regions, whether it is Shannon or Cork, in order that the tourism sector and the business sector in particular in those areas can flourish.
We find in Cork that the lack of connectivity to the United States for the business sector is a big issue. They want to be hitting the US mainland directly from Cork. What they do not want is to be obliged to go to Dublin and then get a flight out because that is not how they want to spend their day. The big pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical plants in Cork are huge operations and need that connectivity to their American bases. A debate with the Minister is important because unless we model and change Government policy on these issues, Dublin Airport will develop into a monster and the two other regional airports that have an international focus, Shannon and Cork, may not achieve their full potential. Shannon has an advantage over Cork because it has independent status. Perhaps we should consider re-opening that debate in Cork because if we had independent status, we might be able to have a bigger slice of the cake we need to deliver both Project Ireland 2040 as a national plan and the regional development this country badly requires.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. Like the Cathaoirleach, on behalf of all of us in the House, I acknowledge and welcome to the Gallery the members of the Historical and Reconciliatory Police Society and thank them for their contribution to public service and to public life. I worry that they are with Senator Craughwell. I am not sure whether that is a good or bad omen but, knowing Senator Craughwell, it could lead to a long day. They are most welcome in the House and I thank them for being here.
On a sad note, on behalf of the House, I extend our sympathies to our colleague and friend, Senator Ó Céidigh, on the loss of his mother, Rita, during the Easter recess. Our thoughts are with the Senator and his family.
Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of the advertising campaign on domestic violence. It was raised yesterday on the Order of Business. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, when confronted about the issue at the publication yesterday, agreed to reflect upon the issues that were raised. All of us recognise that this campaign has been going on since 2016. It is an issue that requires huge support to be given to the victims of domestic violence. As the Senator rightly said, that involves legislative means plus support. Any issues that have been addressed need to be taken on board. The campaign was well intentioned. We are seeing extra resources being directed to assist the victims of domestic violence. It is, as I stated yesterday, a menace in society that we must stamp out. It has no place in Irish society. The Government is committed to doing all that it can in the area of domestic violence. As I stated yesterday, the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 is going through the Lower House. The second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence has been published. It has three central pillars, namely, prevention, provision of services to victims and holding perpetrators to account, along with implementation, monitoring and data. It is important to recognise that the advertisement campaign was commissioned to reach an audience, raise awareness and encourage support. If anybody has an issue with the campaign, he or she needs to be listened to as well. The Government is committed to ensuring that the voices that spoke yesterday will be heard. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House on the matter.
Senator Mark Daly also made reference to the issue of the undocumented Irish. It is an important issue and the Senator rightly highlighted the issues raised on the St. Patrick's Day visit by An Taoiseach to the White House and the remarks of President Trump. I would be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, come to the House on the matter. I note Deputy Deasy has been appointed as the Government envoy on this important issue. There was a telling contribution on radio this morning of a young man who spoke eloquently about whether he would come home and about the text alert system that is activated when US immigration is on the move in parts of the north-east United States. It is an issue that will not go away and one on which we need to see continuous work. I will work on a bipartisan basis on that. It is important that we all support the initiatives being taken.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of housing and the two housing summits with the Minister and the CEOs of the different councils. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will be in the House next week to have a debate on housing and I would be happy to have the issue raised there.
Senator Norris's motion is a matter for debate within the House. The Cathaoirleach stated, by way of information, the current position but I would be happy to have that debated as part of a motion that the Senator is putting forward.
I thank the Leader.
It is a bit like everything else. There are different viewpoints but there is a process that the Committee on Procedure and Privileges has commissioned. Maybe we can see what the outcome from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is. I do not want to pre-empt the result of that but we will come back to it, if that is okay with Senator Norris.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of fodder to farmers. I think we all agree there is a need to see fodder provided, be it in the east, west, south or north of the country. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has been proactive on the matter, as have Members of this House. I pay tribute to Senator Lombard who in his own constituency of Cork South-West - I do not wish him to come back to Cork South-Central - has been proactive in working with the co-operatives and farmers in the area. I compliment him on that. It is important to recognise that payments have been made. The Minister has been proactive on the matter and action has been taken by Government. It is about ensuring that we have cattle fed. It is about ensuring that fodder is provided to farmers. It is also about ensuring that the co-operatives, which have worked with farmers, will not be seen to be overzealous in demanding payment. The Government has put in place a range of incentives. We will have the debate as part of Private Members' business later on. It is also important to recognise that we also need to look at the issue of climate change and how that has an effect on us as a country. As Members know quite well, we have now had weeks of incessant rain during which I would say we have not had two days of drying. Moreover, land and underfoot conditions are very wet. The Minister has been proactive. We always have an animal welfare scheme. There is a range of farm relief schemes available to farmers and that will come across as part of the debate tonight on the Private Members' motion. I am not familiar with the issue the Senator raised regarding the transport issues in terms of the projects but if the Senator wants to give them to me later, I would be happy to take them up with the Minister.
Senator Black raised the issue of trolleys in hospitals. I completely empathise with the Senator, not only on her family's situation but in that every patient who is on a trolley is a person who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
At a time when we have the biggest spend on healthcare in the history of the State and our spend per capita is one of the highest in Europe there is something fundamentally wrong. The political class and the Minister are blamed when there is no money available. There has been an increase in recruitment and more hospital beds have been opened but I recognise that there has been an increase in attendances at emergency departments. In budget 2018 €40 million extra was provided to respond to winter pressures, €25 million was allocated this year for social care measures which included €3.5 million for 480 additional transitional care beds and €18 million for 1,080 additional home support packages. An additional 204 beds have been opened but someone coming into the country from abroad would imagine there was nothing happening. It is not good enough that there are people on trolleys or that people have to be treated badly but the Government launched a national development plan which allows for an increase of some 2,000 extra acute beds. It is important to consider the Sláintecare report. It involves an emphasis on primary care and the need to see that develop. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. What is the HSE doing to eliminate the problems? We blame the Government in many cases. I have been in a situation similar to the Senator's because family members of mine were in the emergency department over the Easter break. There is something fundamentally wrong when a patient has to wait three hours for a discharge letter to be told they can walk out the door because they are okay. There is something fundamentally wrong when a triage nurse cannot tell them they can go home, or if they have to wait eight hours when it is clear that the system is not working to benefit the patient. As a former Chairman of the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children I believe it is time all the vested interests in the health sector came out of their silos and into the centre on behalf of the patient. That is the point that comes through in the Senator's story today, that it is distressing and should not have to happen.
Senators Feighan and Ó Domhnaill raised the North and the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be in the House today. We should all take note of Bill Clinton's remark, "don't let it go, you can't let it go by doing nothing". We want to see the Assembly back in Stormont. That requires everybody, gach duine le chéile, working together. The Minister has said repeatedly that we cannot go back to the bad old days and we do not want to go back to them. We want to see mature, sensible decisions made to return to power-sharing and the Assembly, to work for the people. That requires compromise on all sides. This morning we remember the former First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush, who said compromise is not a filthy thing, it is a good thing. The same applies to politics around the world.
Senators Leyden and Craughwell raised the issue of the Defence Forces. We debated this yesterday on the Order of Business. I do not want to get into an argument again but I understand that the Senators represent Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, and other organisations. We all want to see the men and women in our Defence Forces treated fairly and properly. Senator Craughwell spoke about family income supplement; 1.3% of serving members receive that support. To hear Senator Craughwell this morning one would swear half the Army was on that support. It is not acceptable that people are on family income supplement. I am not advocating that. The Minister of State with responsibility for defence has started an independently chaired review of the conciliation and arbitration scheme over the past two years when more people have joined the Defence Forces than left it. In addition, new pay scales have been introduced for the post-2013 recruits and starting salaries have increased by 25%. Those are facts. Under the national pay agreement all wages up to €70,000 will be restored. There is a review of 1994 and 2006 contracts. In addition, there has been capital investment in ships, equipment, barracks, planes and there is an active recruitment campaign such that 751 people joined the Defence Forces last year. I do not want to have a political row because I value and respect the members of the Defence Forces, some of whom are my friends, some past pupils, and, as Senator Leyden said, many live around Haulbowline. We want to see pay and conditions increase and the achievements of our Defence Forces recognised and respected and I hope that will happen. Politicising it is the wrong way to do it. I would be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, come to the House again.
I agree with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell about the story of Caroline and Michael who spoke on the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" programme. They deserve great credit for the way they told their story and their bravery in coming forward. The committee I chaired produced an end of life care report and the Senator did major work in her own right which should not be left sitting on a shelf. We must have empathy, compassion, care, respect and always treat people properly. The Senator was correct in what she said this morning. As part of the heads of the Bill relating to the eighth amendment the Minister for Health has spoken about maternal care and the care of infants. The ancillary recommendations of the committee on the eighth amendment will also resonate with some of what the Senator said this morning. We need to take greater care of people. I would be happy to invite the Minister to the House on this as a stand-alone item. I do not wish to patronise Senator O'Donnell but we cannot allow a report that is a landmark be left sitting on a shelf because it is about people. People should not have to go on a radio programme being personal and open about their situation. I compliment their courage in telling their story. We need to have compassion in our maternity services and I hope we continue to have it.
I join with Senator Devine in commending the Minister for Justice and Equality on broadening the Magdalen laundries redress scheme. The sign of a good Minister is that he listens. It is a question of including women who were doing the same work as others and being treated in the same way. I welcome that decision.
Senators Mulherin and Davitt got into an argument on housing. As Leader of the House I try not to be personal but when the only remark of Fianna Fáil's spokesman on housing is about a Minister or a Taoiseach without reference to policy that does not say a whole lot. We will have a debate on housing. We have come through the worst of recessionary times. I remind Senator Murnane-O'Connor, who is looking at me, that it was her party in government-----
I am on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and have met the two Ministers from the Leader's party who made commitments but not one has been delivered on. I have been to every meeting of the committee since I came in here two years ago.
Please, Senator, the Leader is anxious to conclude.
Methinks the Senator doth protest too much.
We are anxious.
I tell the truth.
The Senator's version of it.
I tell the truth.
I am smiling because some of the members of Fianna Fáil remind me of an under-14 team. They wore the jersey and banged the hurley off the desk for Micheál Martin this morning and they are all coming in with a pep in their step in this first week back after the Easter break. The lads need to know it is a question of being in government-----
The Leader should not make promises his party cannot commit on. Fine Gael has made a lot of them.
Does the Senator want me to list-----
There is lots more stuff here and Fine Gael cannot-----
Does Senator Murnane O'Connor want me to list the broken promises of Fianna Fáil?
I could make a list myself.
If she wants me to, I will. The fundamentals are that we do need to see a collective end to the scourge of people being homeless and being put into hotels. We need to see a continuation of the social housing building that the Government has commenced. We need to see the issue of the affordability of land being tackled and we need to look at all measures that can increase the output and supply of housing. Personalised attacks on the Taoiseach or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government have nothing to offer in any debate. What we need to see is not just idle rhetoric but actual reality happening in terms of policy development. I look forward to working with all Senators to see that happen.
Senators Maria Byrne and Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the participation of women in sport. I congratulate Joy Neville on being awarded one of the People of the Year awards. It is great to see young women being able to reach the pinnacle of their careers, whether it is Katie Taylor, Katie Walsh, Joy Neville or whoever. It is fantastic and I support any initiative we can undertake to encourage women's participation in sport.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of school accommodation. I am not familiar with the particular issues they raised in terms of the specific schools but the refurbishment of schools is something the Government is committed to. If I may educate some of the Members of the House who come in making statements - I am not sure what kind of research they do - in 2017, the Government spent half of what the Fianna Fáil Government spent in 2008 on rented prefabs. We are planning for the future. That is why we have seen the announcement of new schools and €8.4 billion in a school building programme. That compares with €4.9 billion in the previous ten years. In 2008, we had about 2,000 rented prefabs in use.
We had a bigger population.
Today we have 1,325. In any man's language, that is a decrease. That is going down. The €8.4 billion allocated by the Government will allow for prefab replacement. I taught in a prefab in my previous life. I was the person who, on a wet and wild day, could hear the wind and have the rain coming through, with a storage heater that worked if I gave it a kick and did not work at all if it was a bad day. I had to take classes in that type of school.
There has been an increase of 30% in prefabs between 2015 and 2017. The Leader's information is wrong.
The Government is committed to modernising, investing and refurbishing-----
I remind the House that we are nine minutes over the allocated time. This cannot happen every day. There is a Minister waiting to come in and another piece of business to be commenced. I ask Senators to refrain from argy-bargy across the Chamber. I ask the Leader to try to conclude.
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, as I said yesterday, is committed to coming to the House to discuss the Action Plan for Education.
Senators Warfield and Ó Donnghaile raised a very important issue around the enactment of the Children and Family Relationships Act. To be fair, Senator Warfield outlined to me before today that he was going to raise the matter. I was in touch with the Department. A number of technical drafting issues have come to light in respect of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The implications of these issues are being explored by officials in the Department and the Office of the Attorney General and clarification on whether primary legislation is required to resolve these issues is being sought.
In the event that primary legislation is required, the Minister will seek this as a matter of urgency. I ask Senator Warfield to give the Minister a bit more time to come back to us on the matter. I have flagged the matter with the Department because it is a very important one. As the Senator has said, there are people affected by this delay. As I have outlined to the House, there are issues that need to be addressed and more time is required in regard to the matter. I would be happy to come back to the House again with the Minister at a later date. Rather than creating a debate now on it, I have given the House an updated position and would be happy to return to the matter in a number of weeks.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of investment in health and I will have the Minister come to the House regarding that matter. Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Lombard raised the issue of the connectivity in the context of Shannon Airport. I congratulate the airport on its New York Stewart International Airport daily flight. As Senator Lombard rightly said, those of us in the southern capital of Cork have been disproportionately affected by Norwegian Air's decision. I have written to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport requesting that the DAA come to the committee to explain why Cork Airport lost out in this case. As Senator Kieran O'Donnell rightly said, it is about having a structured debate around our aviation policy in the future whereby we do not allow everything to happen in Dublin and where the growth is not just centred around Dublin but that both Cork and Shannon can be seen to grow exponentially as well. I would be happy to have that debate with the Minister, Deputy Ross, in the coming weeks.
If Senator Warfield would allow me to have the Minister come back to me again with an update rather than divide the House on a very important issue, I would be happy to come back to him. I will not accept his amendment on the basis of the reply I have given to the House to the effect that the Department is working to iron out the difficulties and I would hope that he would allow that space.
Senator Fintan Warfield has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That the debate with the Minister for Health on the rights of same-sex parents be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
We have heard it all before.
I am as anxious as the Senator to get the matter resolved. That is why I took his request as seriously as I did.
It is Senator Warfield's prerogative if he wishes to have it pressed.
We have given the Minister three years.
Give him a chance.
If the Senator wishes to withdraw the amendment and reinstate it in a month's time, he has that prerogative as well.
I am happy to work with Senator Warfield. I am as anxious as he is to get the matter resolved.
Can we meet the Department?
I will put in a request to have the Senator meet the Department and I will go with him if he wants. I have no problem with that.
I thank Senator Warfield. It is a very important, sensitive matter and the lives of people are being discommoded in a variety of ways.
Does the Cathaoirleach think it is right that the Leader of the Seanad has to answer accusations from a Senator who is not here and that we go over time because out of his deference-----
That is a matter for the Leader. I will just say this as a word of warning-----
They were serious accusations about the navy and the Army.
As a warning to all, I have been very accommodating to people but in future I will strictly cut people off and the Leader will have a limited time. It is not realistic that we go 15 minutes over when there is a Minister and other matters waiting.
A Chathaoirligh, the people who do stick to time-----
That is a matter for the Leader.
I think it is very unfair that Senators sit here and wait, with the grace of the Leader, while other Senators who have actually accused the Government of things that are possibly not true are not here to have them answered.
That is a matter for the Leader. I cannot rule on that one as it is not a decision for me. It is up to the Leader to respond. Some people for different reasons may have to leave early and they say so to the Leader. They may have other committee meetings, for example. If people want me to record the amount of time Senators are in this Chamber, I might give the answer that some people might not desire me to give.