The Order of Business is Nos. 1 and 2, motions re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 and Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 - continuance of certain provisions, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., to be discussed together and to conclude within 85 minutes if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given an extra four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, motion re commission of investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse to be taken on the conclusion of Nos. 1 and 2 and to conclude within 60 minutes if not previously concluded, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be given an extra four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, motion re appointment of a member to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude within 60 minutes if not previously concluded, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be given an extra four minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, statements on matters related to a fatal road traffic collision causing the death of Mr. Shane O’Farrell in 2011, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4 and to conclude within 60 minutes if not previously concluded, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be given an extra four minutes to reply to the debate.
Order of Business
I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will join me in welcoming to Kerry tomorrow the Prince of Wales and the Duchess, and I have no doubt he is looking forward to the visit.
I referred to it yesterday on the Order of Business.
As you should.
I also referred to it at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Sligo over the weekend.
Most appropriate. I am surprised to see the Leader of the House-----
Will we sing God Save the Queen at the opening of business?
I do not think so.
Perhaps Senator Norris would lead us off in a tune later. He is most welcome to Kerry, of course. I am surprised to see the Leader of the House here because I would have assumed he would be down in Cork, welcoming the Prince of Wales and the Duchess.
I was not invited.
Of course, this is an important part of the ongoing building of relationships between these two islands, especially in light of Brexit but also in regard to the issue of the Good Friday Agreement and building bridges, which is an important part of the work of Government.
As well as that local issue, I would also like to raise another local issue of which the Leas-Chathaoirleach will be aware, namely, the amount of plastic that is appearing on Little Skellig, one of the world heritage sites designated by UNESCO. Some 70,000 gannets are nesting there, but most of their nesting material is plastic.
There are a few gannets here.
It is a very serious issue.
The plastic has been mounting up in recent years given that 18 billion tonnes of plastic is dumped into the sea every year. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on that issue. Not only is it appearing on our coastline, but it is now appearing in the food chain, as highlighted in a study by NUI Galway in regard to its analysis of the fish being extracted from the sea. We might organise a debate.
Today is the first anniversary of the killing and death of 71 people in Grenfell Tower in London.
As I am sure we all know, we have spoken before in this House about the Corporate Manslaughter Bill. As well as all of the analysis and investigation taking place into the Grenfell Tower fire in London, the UK police are investigating two organisations, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the local tenant management organisation, in regard to potential corporate manslaughter laws. Unfortunately, in England nobody can go to jail for the deaths of the 71 people who lost their lives because of what the UK did in its corporate manslaughter law. The Government is proposing to do exactly what the UK did when my corporate manslaughter legislation comes before the House on, I hope, 27 June, as I outlined to the Leader yesterday during our meeting.
We must bear in mind the offences for which people are sent to jail under corporate law. A company director can go to jail for up to ten years for price fixing, engaging in theft or fraud or interfering with information. Under a justice Bill proposed by the Government, a person may be sentenced to ten years in prison for corruption. However, the Government proposes to remove from the forthcoming Bill on corporate manslaughter the section providing for jail sentences for corporate manslaughter. The Bill was proposed by the Law Reform Commission arising from the hepatitis C scandal. We now have the CervicalCheck scandal. Mrs. Vicky Phelan has represented people in this country and shown enormous courage and bravery. All she wants is to ensure no one else endures what she is enduring. As politicians, we are obliged to make sure nobody else experiences such failures and, therefore, we need to pass the Bill, as a matter of urgency.
The Senator has had an adequate bite at the cherry.
I thank the Leas-Cathaoirleach.
The Senator raised three rather than two issues.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
He also had injury time to boot.
Most of my time was spent responding to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's welcoming of Prince Charles to the Lakes of Killarney tomorrow.
I thought it was the Senator who mentioned the subject first.
I hope he receives his well deserved knighthood.
That is enough of that baloney.
Have a bit of faith, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
-----if the Leas-Chathaoirleach needs a sword at the Lakes of Killarney tomorrow, I have one handy.
I call Senator Boyhan.
Tomorrow, Prince Charles can knight the Leas-Chathaoirleach on the spot in the town square in Killarney.
Under a large branch of rhododendrons.
We will present Prince Charles with the Order of Innisfallen. I call Senator Victor Boyhan.
I refer first to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. I saw some NTPF staff seated downstairs in the LH2000 building earlier. Perhaps they were due to attend a meeting of a joint committee. The public outpatient waiting list for consultants was published in the national newspapers today. More than 511,000 people are awaiting treatment, which is extremely disappointing. I will not be exclusively critical and ask Senators to hear me out. We have a major crisis. The latest NTPF figures have been published today and the NTPF has confirmed that the number of people waiting for treatment has increased by 4,000 since its previous report was published in April. It is interesting to note that 80,000 of those waiting for treatment have been waiting for more than 18 months. Large numbers of people need treatment. This is a difficult issue and my main concern is that 16,255 children await special paediatric services.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the NTPF figures. They are disappointing and require action. Having made some inquiries, I received a note confirming that €55 million was made available to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to tackle these issues last April, which is welcome. I suggest that the Leader arranges, perhaps in a month or two or even in September, a debate on this issue. We must monitor the situation and I ask Senators who are members of the Joint Committee on Health to raise this matter with the NTPF staff if they are before the committee today.
On the local boundaries commission, I have no doubt that yesterday's figures on the new boundaries are legitimate and independent. We should implement the suggestion made by a former joint committee dealing with the environment and local government to establish an independent electoral commission to oversee elections and referenda and promote engagement with the political process. It will be important to do this at some point in the future.
This morning, a delegation of 18 officials from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The issue ICTU asked us to pursue relates to Irish Water. ICTU made the following statement.
We believe there is broad public support for the holding of a constitutional referendum to prevent the future privatisation of the public water system. We note that the Minister has confirmed that he is willing to facilitate such holding of a referendum. We understand that a Bill to give effect to the holding of a referendum is currently under consideration. We would urge all parties to co-operate and ensure that this referendum is held as soon as possible.
Is there a plan to hold a referendum on the privatisation of Irish Water within the next year?
I raise an issue of extreme importance and urgency that emerged almost by accident at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care. The committee Chairman, Senator Joan Freeman, was made aware that three consultant psychiatrists in Waterford and Wexford had resigned their positions together and that the fourth consultant for the south east region was on sick leave. Is the consultant on extended sick leave? If so, it will mean the region will be left completely bereft of expert mental healthcare from mid-July. It will also disable the operation of most, if not all, mental healthcare services in the region if junior staff, non-consultant hospital doctors, psychologists and occupational therapists are left without senior staff to guide and authorise their work. I have no desire to create panic but the situation in the region has been deteriorating for a long time. I have raised the issue a number of times and was told the Government planned to improve conditions in mental health facilities for patients and staff. Unfortunately, we have heard from both groups about growing waiting lists, deteriorating working conditions and poor service delivery. This is leading to worse outcomes for patients and is necessitating more expensive treatments and a higher incidence of emergency care.
Even if the HSE begins a recruitment process immediately, the staff required will not be in place for a long time. At present, as many as 500 places are unfilled nationally and, incredibly, 26 psychiatric nurse positions are vacant in the south east region. Recruitment can take up to six months with nurses having to undergo a recruitment process that involves 25 steps. That the staffing problem is more acute in the south east is sadly demonstrated by the extreme waiting times faced by many young people and the number of tragic suicides among young people in the past year.
Last April, the report by the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care highlighted chronic understaffing and an over-reliance on agency staff to temporarily fill positions. Yesterday, the annual report of the Ombudsman for Children was published. The report revealed that young people facing mental health problems experienced shortcomings in services, which are manifested in stressed and overworked staff who are left unable to deliver the desired standard of care. The waiting lists are long and move very slowly. The problem is particularly acute for young people who are in dire need of emergency care and at severe risk of self-harm. Mental healthcare does not have to be like this. We need a significant increase in investment in mental healthcare in the region in one sharp move. Such a move would illustrate that the region is not a bad place to work and that proper care can be delivered in a timely manner.
The Sláintecare plan advocated the prioritisation of primary care to save money, achieve better outcomes and help ensure people can avoid seeking the help they need in emergency departments. The same approach needs to be applied to mental healthcare in Waterford and the south east region. Young people, in particular, need to get the help they deserve without having to fight, beg and plead. Previous Governments and the HSE have presided over closures and the concentration of services to the detriment of patients. Previous regional hospitals enjoyed greater control over hiring policies that helped them adapt best to the prevailing need.
I appeal to the Leader to ensure the legacy of this Government is not a crisis in mental health in the south east. I must do more than simply make an appeal, as a citizen of Waterford and a representative of the south east region. I must insist on hearing how the Government will manage the short-term crisis presented by the staffing shortfall caused by the resignation of two consultant psychiatrists and how the Government will prevent the crisis from continuing to drive professionals out of the service in the future. I insist that the Leader invites the Minister for Health to the House after the debate on the motion this afternoon. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to that effect because the current position in the south east cannot be allowed to continue.
The Senator is moving an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come in, but when?
I propose that he comes in after the motions this afternoon.
That is the Senator's proposal.
I want to raise the case of Chidi Muojeke who is threatened with deportation along with her family. They have been residents here for 12 years. She fled Nigeria after the death of her husband when she then became the property of her brother-in-law. She was subjected to domestic violence with no means of remedy. Unfortunately, domestic abuse is not viewed as valid criteria for refugee status in Ireland. I am calling for the inclusion of such abuse in the criteria and I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality grant this very genuine family leave to remain here for its own protection.
I want to raise the issue of the ever-increasing administrative workload of teaching principals. Many teaching principals are based in small rural schools. They have been asked to take on this role in order to make the school viable. These people are real educational leaders in their communities but they are expected to teach several different primary-level students in one classroom as well as fulfil the vast array of other responsibilities. These teaching principals only get 15 days a year to carry out these administrative tasks. These tasks are important elements of keeping the school running such as maintaining contact with the Department of Education and Skills, Tusla, the INTO, the inspectorate, psychologists and local authorities. I have a whole list of duties that principals need to do. From talking to teaching principals in Mayo, I know that the situation is becoming intolerable. They are asking for one piece of administrative time per day per week, which would mean 36 such periods per year. They have been promised some form of resolution for ten years but have seen no improvement. In reality, these principals pick up a lot of the slack when it comes to providing State services. In many cases, they are the eyes and ears in terms of child welfare, whether it involves poverty, medical issues or educational development. Recently, the Minister announced new powers to compel schools to open special classes where any identification was needed. I very much welcome that but without cutting these principals some slack and allowing for the administrative duties they must do, this will not be possible. I have a list of the official duties that principals must fulfil during a school year. It is hard to imagine how any human being could get through this in a year never mind teach several classes at the same time. I want the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House and to recognise that there is a problem here. I want a full debate on this matter. This is not something the Government can ignore. So many small schools rely on these teaching principals and it would spell disaster for many schools if they were to leave their posts. Many of them are talking about doing so. The Government should remedy this problem or reintroduce the principal post as full time. Doing nothing is not an option. The cost to the teachers, students and the communities is too much. I have just come out of a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. It is not a matter of resources. The committee was meeting PTSB and we discussed corporation tax. PTSB has not had to pay corporation tax for 23 years. All of that money, which I think was €260 million last year, could be used. All these teachers are asking for is one day per week where they can do this administrative work and do it quickly. We must remember that if something goes wrong within a school, some box is not ticked, something happens or something goes wrong, the buck stops with them. They need time and resources to be able to do their jobs. I ask that the Minister comes to the House to discuss this topic.
I second Senator Kelleher's amendment to the Order of Business.
I think Senator Norris means Senator Grace O'Sullivan's amendment.
I beg your pardon. I apologise. I call for a debate on transport. About 35 years ago, I was one of the principal organisers of the Dublin crisis conference where we focused on reclaiming Dublin as a living city. We now have a situation where apparently 1,200 front gardens are going to taken over by the NTA to create a series of express bus routes. This is part of the continuing disaster on the part of whatever imbeciles are in charge of the transport network in this country. People will open their front doors not on to a garden but straight on to the street. What about the pollution from diesel fumes? We are really degrading people's lives. Instead of having them living in a living city, we have them living in an industrial environment. This is an appalling situation. What they really should have done is put in an underground railway. I said this 30 years ago in this House and got very strong support from all sides. We were nearly there and then the Government lost its nerve at the very last minute but it is still not too late. An orbital underground system could be installed. I doubt if a message coming from this House to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport from his former senatorial colleague will carry a perfumed aroma but I would ask the Leader to transmit to Senator Ross that there is somebody in this country-----
What did I call him?
Oh well, whatever he is. He is a Minister and he has that responsibility.
He was in the House for two Commencement matters this morning.
I suggest that the Minister contacts one person who has been consistently right about transport matters and who is rather non-aggressive. He is not all pushy and does not really promote his own ideas but he is somebody who has a really clear understanding of the transport situation. I understand he is an adviser to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. His name is Cormac Rabbitt. The Minister should talk to Cormac Rabbitt about the possibility of putting in an orbital underground network even at this stage. Although a surface tram suits me perfectly, gets me here every day and is an excellent system for those people for whom it works, I pointed out in this House 25 years ago that one could not increase the length of a surface tram because of traffic disruption or increase the frequency of the tram whereas one could do both with an underground system. Recently, Luas tried to increase the length of its trams and it led to total traffic chaos and congestion. We told them that 25 years ago. I wish they would listen and in particular, that they would listen to the gentle and informed voice of Cormac Rabbitt.
Two days ago, I raised an issue concerning Irish Water, the lack of supply and the number of outages, particularly in Skerries, so I welcome the fact that following that, we had a meeting with Irish Water. I commend the residents for their determination to have this matter resolved. Arising from the meeting, there was a worrying element. The focus is rightly on finding an immediate, short-term and medium-term solution so I welcome the fact that Irish Water will put in booster pumps in Skerries and also put in a booster pump to fill the reservoir at Thomastown which supplies Skerries. However, there is a need, which is felt by the residents, for an independent report to be commissioned by the Minister to find out what the problem is because it was quite apparent last night that neither Fingal County Council nor Irish Water was 100% sure what the problem is. I very much believe that if one does not know what is causing a problem, the likelihood of finding a permanent solution to it diminishes considerably. I call on the Minister to commission an independent report that should not take a huge length of time to discover the cause of this difficulty. It cannot be explained by the stretch of good weather. As I said, there have been 20 outages over the past 18 months. I welcome the fact that Fingal County Council was at the meeting.
Again, there are two agencies involved and we need somebody from outside to do the report.
The other issues raised were around the regulatory authority and what rights people have. It seems reasonable that neither Fingal County Council nor Irish Water would be responsible for what happens inside the boundary of a private dwelling, but if issues outside the boundary result in damage to property inside the boundary it does not seem to be fair or natural justice. When there are outages without warning and people are at work they cannot turn off their pumps, the pumps keep running and they burn out, or the house pipes become full of airlocks. Most people are not skilled in the art of bleeding out airlocks. It is a simple enough procedure if one is a plumber and knows the trade. This sort of issue costs people a lot of money. I would like to call on the regulator to give us some ruling on its role on the rights of consumers in this regard. These people paid €4,000 apiece for their water connection and the least they can expect is the service they paid for, and not to be regularly sustaining damage and costs because of burnt out pumps and airlocks, and in some cases washing machines breaking down. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister about this. I call on the Minister, through the good offices of the Leader, to instigate and commission an independent report into the causes of these problems in water supply in the Fingal area.
Senator Boyhan referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, which the previous Government thought was not a particularly good idea but has reinstated. Senator Boyhan was a director of the NTPF for two terms. The NTPF did great work in the mid-2000s onwards. Given the current waiting lists, the NTPF needs to be resourced to deliver quickly to those people who have waited a long time on waiting lists for procedures. Many people are waiting for far too long, far beyond what they should be waiting, and often in great discomfort.
With regard to insurance fraud, the Alliance for Insurance Reform gave a presentation in the audiovisual room this morning, which was attended by Senators, including Senators McFadden and Mulherin. We saw very serious examples of blatant fraud such as people going into licensed premises, restaurants and shops and staging accidents. Only for the CCTV footage there would have been payouts in these cases. In many cases these incidents involve a family industry and these people are known to the Garda for staging fraud. We do not, however, have a fraud unit within An Garda Síochána to look at these cases.
The costs of insurance working group recommended such a measure and I call on the Leader to have a debate on the costs of insurance, especially fraud, and the setting up of a Garda unit that would deal with fraud and prosecute people who are shown to be bringing in false cases. We are all paying for it. Everybody is paying for these fraudulent cases. It is not just happening in motor insurance; it happens in the licensed trade, the restaurant trade and shops. There is a premises in County Mayo that had to close recently because its insurance premium had gone from €5,000 in 2014-15 to €55,000 this year. This is unsustainable and the business had to close with the loss of more than 20 jobs.
There are many other such examples around the State of premises under pressure. We have been told that street performers will not exist in the next few years because a stilt walker or a tightrope walker, for example, will not get insurance as it will become too expensive. It is a very serious issue. People are making an industry out of it.
At the briefing by the Alliance for Insurance Reform we were told of a person who had said that if he was short of cash he could rob a bank or stage an accident. He said that if a person got caught staging an accident there are no repercussions but if a person got caught robbing a bank, obviously there are. This is what some people in society are doing. It needs to be looked at.
Let us not start robbing banks now, and not from your lot.
I hope the coalition partners are not falling out.
Senator Conway-Walsh started it. It is important to have a debate on the issue of insurance fraud and on whether or not An Garda Síochána should be resourced to tackle it. The Minister was before the committee some weeks ago and said that gardaí were to be diverted away from crime into fraud. Fraud is a crime, however, and the exaggeration and staging of claims are all fraud. We are all paying for it. It costs people jobs and businesses. It costs us all in our premiums. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on that matter.
I have just spent two very interesting days in Westminster, and was there during a Brexit vote. I brought our emigrant Senator Billy Lawless to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain to talk about emigration reform and votes for emigrants. There is huge goodwill in Westminster and the House of Lords, among all the parties and Members, towards the island of Ireland. We met with Conor McGinn, MP, from the island of Ireland and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group. Mr. McGinn was one of the 75 Labour Party MPs who defied the Whip and voted on the EEA amendment in the Brexit vote. This is why I missed the first two days of this week's sitting.
The Taoiseach's visit to Belfast last weekend was absolutely incredible with the welcome he received outside the Orange Order headquarters in east Belfast, and when launching Féile an Phobail. Sometimes in life politicians can be behind the curve and on this occasion maybe we are behind the curve. We speak about an agreed Ireland and things are moving at a great pace. I have said on many occasions that we must look at membership of the Commonwealth, and people wondered what was going on. If we want an agreed Ireland there must be accommodation for Ireland joining the Commonwealth. Dan O'Brien in today's Irish Independent said, "A united Ireland [is] only possible if it isn't a cold house for Unionists."
I ask that Fianna Fáil Senators would listen very carefully to my final point. I was at a conference three weeks ago in Liverpool. Bryce Evans is a lecturer in history based in Liverpool and the author of a 2011 biography of Seán Lemass. On page 214 of the book it says that on a visit to London by de Valera and Frank Aiken in 1958, de Valera secretly sounded out British opinion on the prospect of a united Ireland joining the Commonwealth. In 1953, Éamon de Valera allegedly informed Churchill - again in London - that if he had been in office as Taoiseach in 1948 Ireland would not have left the Commonwealth.
I am in very good company. Again I say, that if we want our friends and neighbours to actually join an agreed Ireland - and I am aware it is far too early - there has to be some link with the Commonwealth. Perhaps I am just ahead of the curve, but I am delighted, and I would probably follow de Valera in this regard.
Good man; another follower of Dev.
I do not know if that was rather a curve ball.
Another recruit for the cause.
I echo the remarks of Senator Norris earlier about the chaos about to happen in Dublin regarding public transport. I am delighted that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who has been missing in action for so long, was on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" and I look forward to listening to his great knowledge on transport and to hear what his solutions are. He has not been very much involved in his own Department until now.
Today is an historic week. It marks the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, which happened on 24 June 1993. Senator Norris was a great campaigner on this issue and he should be proud of the work he did on it. The issue was part of the Labour Party's programme for Government when we went into government with Fianna Fáil. The then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, ably carried the legislation through.
I acknowledge the work the Leader has done with Senator Nash with regard to an apology that will be issued to those men who were convicted, some of whom were imprisoned and brutally treated. Unfortunately some of those men are no longer with us, but this is not a reason not to issue the apology. The Taoiseach has agreed with Senator Nash that an apology will be issued. I acknowledge the work of Senator Nash in this regard.
I also acknowledge the work done by the Leader in facilitating the legislation. It was a good day's work when Senator Nash brought the Bill to the House. It will be debated next week in the Seanad and Dáil. This is another step forward for this country in terms of modernisation and recognising all citizens as being equal. We still have a distance to go but this is another step in the right direction. I acknowledge all those who played a role in this issue. There are many more than I can mention. I look forward to the day in Dublin Castle, which as well as being sad will be a celebration of how far this country has moved in recent decades. I thank the Leader for the assistance he has given to Senator Nash on the Bill. I am pleased we will be able to bring it to a conclusion next week.
I concur with Senator Horkan. He and a number of others attended the presentation by the Alliance for Insurance Reform. One could only come away from it being quite shocked that, notwithstanding the Government's working group on the cost of insurance, shopkeepers, publicans and people running businesses are in an awful predicament. No longer is insurance a safety net to which one resorts for help in unforeseen circumstances. The cost of insurance and public liability is a threat to the operation of businesses. A pub in my county had to shut down because its premium for public liability insurance increased from €5,000 to €55,000 in three years. We were told of a case in Galway where a public liability insurance premium increased from €17,000 to €107,000 in three years. How could any business hope to pay such an increase?
There seems to be a culture whereby people feel justified in making money through insurance fraud and they stage accidents to that end. We saw footage which was very incriminating but I believe no prosecutions have been made in regard to it. The Civil Liability (Amendment) Act deals with exaggerated and misleading claims but it seems there have been very few, if any, prosecutions under it. Nobody has been held to account. Businesses that are employing people are closing.
We are being told that late night trading and the chance to go dancing late at night will become a thing of the past. We must act. These businesses pay tax and employ people. It is our responsibility to act. The establishment of the Garda insurance fraud unit must be at the top of the list of priorities. The unit will be funded by the insurance industry and must be set up immediately. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, must come before the House to set out what actions have been taken on foot of the report of the working group. We must get to grips with this issue because society is being crippled by the costs of insurance premiums and claims. It is not beyond us to get to grips with the issue but we are not doing so at the moment.
I raise the crippling workload imposed on school principals. With the increased workload relating to administration and compliance, school principals are finding it very difficult to do what they are good at and what there are paid for, namely, teaching. When one considers that 50% of school principals teach a class full time it is very difficult for them to take on extra duties. It is very unfair on them. School principals should be spending their time teaching and learning as that is what they are trained to do. The ever-increasing workload and responsibility that comes with being a school principal is becoming impossible to manage.
Not alone are school principals responsible for teaching but they also have the responsibility for administration and implementing aspects of new legislation that affect their schools. They are also responsible for staff, pupils, the maintenance of the school building and fundraising. It has reached the point that they need more time to perform their role properly. The current position is unfair on principals, teachers and pupils as well. I understand principals have been in contact with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, on the issue. I urge the Leader, who has some experience in this regard, to bring our concerns on the plight of school principals to the Minister so that mechanisms and procedures can be put in place to rectify the problem. The workload has expanded to such an extent that it is impossible for principals to carry on and it is unfair to ask them to do so.
I thank the ten Members of the House who contributed on the Order of Business. I join Senator Mark Daly and your good self, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to Cork today and to Kerry tomorrow. As Senator Mark Daly rightly said, it is about building bridges and in a post-Brexit era cementing the Good Friday Agreement but also recognising the diversity that exists and that friendships are being forged. While I was not invited to the gathering today in Cork, I am delighted-----
The Leader is welcome in Kerry any time.
-----that peace has broken out between Senator Mark Daly and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan, and that they can both share in the royal visit tomorrow to beauty's home.
I am sure Senator Daly will join me in enjoying the cucumber sandwiches and the strawberries and cream.
And the gin and tonic.
I hope you will have more than cucumber sandwiches, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
Some nice cupcakes would be lovely.
It is an historic visit which builds on the visit of the Queen to Ireland. Is it not great that we have Senator Feighan who can travel and speak so eloquently and so passionately across Europe-----
And the world.
-----and the world as well, championing EU-Ireland-UK relations but, more important, North-South and Ireland-UK relations? To be fair to him, the work he does perhaps goes under the radar and is not recognised in the way it should be. I thank him for that work. I know I am repeating myself but today is an extraordinary day that we have Prince Charles visiting. The welcome he will receive in Cork and Kerry is a sign of the maturity in our country.
I join Senator Mark Daly in acknowledging that we must tackle the large amount of plastic in the oceans. The Senator referred to the Little Skellig. World Oceans Day took place last week. The EU has imposed a ban on ten single-use plastic items. Senator Grace O'Sullivan has repeatedly made the point that we cannot ignore any longer the negative impact of plastics on the oceans. It is something we must tackle. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in regard to the matter raised.
Today, we also remember the people who were tragically killed in the Grenfell Tower fire. A total of 71 people lost their lives. The inquiry is ongoing. It is worth remembering that those people were killed and the families of the bereaved deserve answers. Senator Mark Daly referred to the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016, which he introduced. I am aware that he has been engaging with the Department on the issue. As Leader, I will not stop the Bill coming before the House. That is a matter for the Senator and the Department and I hope there will be positive engagement with the Senator on the matter.
Senators Boyhan and Horkan raised the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. As Senator Boyhan rightly acknowledged, an extra €55 million was allocated to the fund this year. We have seen an attempt to tackle inpatient day cases with an action plan which has been promoted, promulgated and published by the Department of Health, the HSE and the NTPF.
Some 1.14 million hospital operations or procedures will take place this year and the NTPF will deliver 20,000 day case treatments. I accept the points made by Senators Victor Boyhan and Gerry Horkan about the figures being too high, but the previous Government did not get rid of the NTPF. Through the special delivery unit, we used moneys to reduce inpatient waiting times to eight months and waiting times for patients on trolleys by one third. This issue needs to be addressed because the numbers are unacceptably high. I make no apology for the fact that we should invest more through Sláintecare.
I welcome the boundary commission's publication. Yesterday was like Christmas Eve for many local authority members, as well as Senators. There are some who will be happy and some who will be unhappy. The Minister published the independent report last night and I hope it will be enacted soon. I will be happy to have a debate on it.
I do not believe there is a plan to privatise Irish Water. The all-party Oireachtas committee did not entertain the idea. As such, I am not sure if there will be a referendum on the issue. To the best of my knowledge, there definitely will not be such a referendum in the autumn, but I will endeavour to find out for the Senator.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referred to the resignations yesterday in the south east. It is an important issue. Notwithstanding the fact that an extra €200 million has been allocated for mental health services, there has been a recruitment campaign. Of the 44 posts advertised, no applications were received for one quarter of them, while only one was received for 30%. There is a failure to recruit. From my inquiries, the Minister of State responsible, Deputy Jim Daly, is not in Leinster House today and the Minister for Health is in the Dáil. However, I would be happy to facilitate a debate early next week, perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the Ministers' availability.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue of Ms Muojeke's deportation. I am not familiar with the issue, but if the Senator gives me the information, I will be happy to give it to the relevant Minister.
Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Robbie Gallagher raised the issue of teaching principals. The INTO's pre-budget briefing session is being held today. I will attend it later. I acknowledge the work principals are doing, particularly walking principals who have to balance being teachers with their administrative duties. More must be done in that regard. This and previous Governments have introduced measures for all principals, but there is a sliding scale. Listening to the Senators, one would swear there had been no investment in primary education, but there has. Recruitment has allowed posts of responsibility to be restored, while there has been investment in other aspects, for example, school buildings and the provision of special needs assistants and teachers. However, we need to do more regarding walking principals. A significant burden is being imposed on them in that they are now charged with managing staff, parents, boards of management and students and ensuring their schools are sufficiently resourced. I will be happy to organise a debate on the matter with the Minister for Education and Skills who has been in the House a number of times.
Specifically on this matter.
Senators David Norris and Kevin Humphreys have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, on their brains constantly. The Minister has frequently participated in Seanad debates on transport. As a group of legislators, we need to reflect on our transport needs. This is national bike week. Part of the problem, one that I see in Cork, is that we are promoting an alternative to use of the car on roads and streets that have not been designed for public transport or vast volumes of traffic. We must make realignments. I will be happy to have the Minister attend the House to discuss the issue.
Senator James Reilly mentioned Skerries. I commend him for being proactive on the matter. He is correct, in that an independent report is needed on the difficulties being faced in Skerries where there have been up to 20 water outages and residents have been discommoded. I will be happy to arrange a debate on the issue.
I agree with Senators Gerry Horkan and Michelle Mulherin on the issue of public liability insurance. I will be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, return to the House to discuss it. There has been a reduction in the cost of car insurance of between 14% and 20% since its peak in 2016, but there is a genuine concern about fraud, claims and public liability insurance. I commend the Senators for their contributions and will be happy to arrange such a debate.
I will not revisit Senator Frank Feighan's Commonwealth argument, which has been settled, although to be fair, his point was worth reiterating. Last week the Taoiseach visited east and west Belfast where he received a warm reception, recognising that it is a country of green, white and orange. As such, we must represent all of the people. Some said he should not have launched the féile, but I disagree. Some said he should not have visited the Orange Order, but I disagree with them, too. Just as a representative of the Orange Order addressed the Seanad, it was a positive move. If we want to build a lasting peace in the country, we must, as Senator Mark Daly said, build bridges that are strong, stable and cemented in communities and people's hearts. We can hold our respective views. Everyone has them. We all value one another as citizens, irrespective of our religion, background and ideology, but let us celebrate the successes and ensure a return to power-sharing at Stormont, while also voicing the view that, in terms of Brexit, it is one island.
I thank Senator Kevin Humphreys for his remarks and commend Senator Gerald Nash for the motion that will be before the House next Tuesday on a public apology. As a member of the LGBT community, it will be an extraordinary event. There will be a commemoration of 25 years of decriminalisation, as well as a public apology to the men who were harmed by a State that made it a cold place for them to live. I thank Members for their co-operation.
I thank the group leaders and Whips for their co-operation last night when there was a clash with the taking of the justice motion in the Dáil. I appreciate that the email was sent late, but it could not be helped. I thank Members for their support.
If Senator Grace O'Sullivan accepts my compromise on the amendment proposed, I will be happy to have the debate on next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Minister for Health attend the Seanad today to discuss the crisis in consultant psychiatric staffing in Waterford and Wexford." She has heard what the Leader had to say. What does she want to do?
I accept the Leader's comments. I want to see the matter on the Order Paper next week. Otherwise, I will return to the House and call a vote on the issue.
I will include it in the schedule for Tuesday or Wednesday, subject to ministerial availability. It is an important matter and I will pursue it for the Senator via Ms Orla Murray in my office.