The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Digital Devices in Schools) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated not to exceed two hours; No. 2, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, National Archives (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.40 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 4, statements on the summer economic statement 2018, to be taken at 5.40 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7.10 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, Members can share time and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate, a change that is meant to facilitate the Minister, who will be at a meeting that will not end until 5.30 p.m.; and No. 5, Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 7.10 p.m.
Order of Business
I welcome the Government's move to take in 25 migrants from the Lifeline, the ship that is stranded off the coast of Malta. However, we should be taking in more. It is time for the House to have an open and honest debate about our immigration policies and our implementation of same. This is one of the greatest issues facing not just Ireland, but Europe, so it is incumbent on us to be proactive rather than reactive in terms of proposed immigration policies.
I welcome the extension of the work permit to migrants, but we need to do more. The House needs to have a debate so that Senators can express their views openly and honestly. We must ensure that a proper and constructive framework is in place to deal with issues facing migrants, including access to housing, education and work permits. This debate should be facilitated urgently.
I have raised the issue of housing every week in the Chamber. More than 85,000 households are awaiting social housing. Many of these are in receipt of the housing assistance payment, HAP. Nearly 10,000 people are in homelessness, including almost 4,000 children. Rent pressure zones and other rent support mechanisms are not working, given that rents are increasing rapidly and HAP cannot keep pace. There are large landbanks around this city, including those at St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore, which have been left idle for more than a decade and on which we are awaiting social housing and community amenities to be built.
We need to rethink our housing models. We must build social and affordable housing on State-owned lands, but this does not seem to be happening quickly enough. It needs to be made a priority. I call on the Minister to attend the House to tell us what he is doing about St. Michael's Estate and inform us of his general policies and plans for social and affordable housing in this city.
I had intended to speak on one matter, but I will first touch on the issue of housing raised by Senator Ardagh. When the Minister of State, Deputy English, took my Commencement matter on the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, this morning, he stated that he would this week announce a second round. That is positive news and should be acknowledged. In conjunction with local authority funding, it will fund the building of affordable housing on State lands, be they owned by State agencies or one of the 31 local authorities. Once the second round is unveiled in the coming days, it might be a good time to have the Minister explain the situation in the House.
Listening to the commentary about Pope Francis's visit to Ireland, I have been disturbed by a small, but intolerant, group of people who have some difficulty with someone as superior as the Pope, who represents people.
I respect Pope Francis as I respect Queen Elizabeth, the Dalai Lama or anybody else who represents people. As I was coming in here this morning, I asked myself what my purpose is. I would like to think that one of the purposes I have is to be an advocate and a conduit for people and that I can come in here and speak in our national Parliament. It is a sad day that we allow people to go our airwaves and vent anger and hatred towards any leader. I respect that people have the right to hold their own views and that is fair enough. We live in a democracy but more importantly we live in a republic. We are proud of our republic and we have a Constitution. The Pope has been invited by the Government and people of this country so I would like to think we would extend him a céad míle fáilte, many welcomes. It is about respect for diversity and difference. That is what this country is all about and we have celebrated our own history and conflicts many times. I could not let today go without saying that it is important that people have rights and that are entitled to be angry over issues that have affected them or their families but let us not lose sight of the bigger picture. We live in a republic and we welcome everyone, including dissenters, as guests of our nation and of our people. We should be mindful of that as advocates for democracy who are elected to Parliament in a republic.
I tried to get tickets to see the Pope in Knock but unfortunately I could not get through. It is quite unlikely I will get them now.
It is sold out.
It is sold out. I suppose all the people in Carlow will be coming up. I am not sure about my tickets for the Mayo-Kildare game on Sunday either.
The match is to be held in Newbridge on Saturday night.
Is it? We look forward to that and to the right result.
I raise the issue of the agency staff in hospitals, in particular those in Mayo University Hospital, and the fact €5.3 million was spent in 2017 on agency staff in that hospital. That is neither prudent nor sustainable when we have a situation where there are more than 700,000 people on waiting lists and there are so many other gaps to be filled. We know agency staff are more expensive. We also know that within a system, permanent sustainable teams are needed, teams who are used to working with each other and who know the run of the mill and the environment they are working in. We need consistency and that cannot happen in a situation where there is an over-dependence on agency staff.
This did not happen today or yesterday. It found its roots in the moratorium that was imposed on healthcare staff, which should never have been put in place. We should have protected our health service and staff above and beyond anything else. I talked yesterday about the National Pensions Reserve Fund being given to the bankers. We should have prioritised our health service and staff who do a wonderful job. The retention and recruitment crisis has never been fixed. Last year the State spent €105 million on agency doctors alone. That is not sustainable either. In Mayo, €1.6 million was spent on medical and dental staff. It is right across the board and those figures do not add up in a system where there are constant overruns and so many gaps that need to be filled.
We need a real examination of the education system in the area of the training of medical staff and doctors. We have the health professions admission test, HPAT, now but my great fear is that there are wonderful young people who would make brilliant doctors and have a sense of social justice and righteousness but because their home lives are perhaps not conducive to excelling in their leaving certificates, they are barred from that for life. That should not be the case. Our education system should be re-examined in that regard because the problem of recruitment and retention will not go away. We need to address the issues of pay and conditions also. I ask the Minister to come into the House, specifically to deal with the issue of aligning the education system with the health service to see what improvements can be made there.
I call Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. It is such a lovely morning I am giving her priority.
I thank the Cathaoirleach who caught me unawares, which is unusual for me. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business again today because I am anxious the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, comes into the House to discuss community banking. I may be going on about this but there is not a Senator in this House or a Deputy in the Dáil who does not understand that we have created an Ireland with a "new poor" of people who earn between €25,000 to €60,000. These people have trained and educated themselves but they cannot afford to live and to stay in their own country. They are nurses, radiographers, occupational therapists, teachers and tradesmen. They cannot even afford the idea of saving for a house or apartment. We seem to consistently capitulate in this country. The universities did it to the pillar banks.
There was a Private Members' motion in the Dáil on community banking, that is, the Sparkasse bank in Germany, the Kiwibank, or a combination with aspects of all of them. I want the Minister to come in here and tell me where he is in these negotiations and what is going on because the tentacles of his Department move right out into the society I am talking about. Senators are seeing it on the ground every day, as are Deputies. I am not getting answers on this.
We have one of the best post office networks in Europe and these community banks could live well and the interest rates could be competitive with the pillar banks which do what they like. Now we cannot even find a human being in the bank branch and still the interest rates go up. Young people cannot save the €20,000 and they do not have a mammy and daddy to give it to them, as the Taoiseach said. I cannot afford to give it to my son and neither can many parents. It is a disgraceful down payment from any pillar bank. Some 95% of banks in Ireland are commercial but only 12% in Germany are. What does that tell us? We are afraid of the banks and competition. It is an area for post offices because they have tentacles going out to the people. It is a perfect place to put it but I want an argument on it and I want us to decide if it is a good or a bad thing and look at how we could do it. How is it that New Zealand did it and all of the money went back into the communities? There is plenty of profit for everybody.
There was not one person on the radio recently, after Mr. Drumm was incarcerated, who said they would put money in the pillar banks. If I had £20 I would not go near them. I would rather give it to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. This is a bit of a rant but it is a real one in that I want the Minister come in here and argue about the community banks. A Private Members' motion on them was passed in the Dáil. I want us to talk about them and see if the Seanad could do something to create a channel for this and not have the pillar banks dictating the lives, hopes and expectations of every young person, educated or uneducated, who is trying to build a life in Ireland.
Is the Senator moving the same amendment as she moved yesterday?
Someone will have to second that.
Senator Norris will.
On a positive note and in the theme of what has come up so far, I was watching the test game between Ireland and Australia last Saturday morning.
It appeared that the bulk of the people attending the match were Irish. A large number of our highly-skilled young people are living abroad. We are reaching full employment here now and it is time to have a debate in the House, with the Minister for the diaspora and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection present, on how we can encourage people to come home.
Keep them in our country.
I want to look at the issue in a positive way. I agree with Senator O'Donnell that we have an issue around affordability but in terms of the sustainability of our economy, I would like to see our diaspora returning here.
We need to have an informed debate on the issue, which is multi-layered. It is about housing, the employment element, affordability and the ingredients we need to encourage people to return here. In a ten-year period that lost generation found themselves in a position where they had to emigrate. We are facing issues here in terms of skill sets for building houses and so on. Many of those with the necessary skills are now living abroad. I would like to see them return here. I ask the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to facilitate a debate on the young diaspora living in Australia, America, Canada and the United Kingdom who might look to return to Ireland. That would include issues such as the diaspora, housing, employment and education. We need to have that debate because we are reaching full employment here.
On another aspect of this issue and going back to the point made by Senator O'Donnell, because we are nearing full employment those who were long-term unemployed are now getting jobs, many of which are unskilled. We need to examine a model whereby the people get back into employment but upskill while they are in that employment. They will then be re-established in the workforce but they can look up the value chain, so to speak, in terms of jobs. We are in a different sphere now. Ireland is doing well and we have full employment, but that brings its own issues. We are not talking about jobs but about people being able to afford their own homes.
I was not talking about jobs.
I know. I am saying we are not talking about them.
I was talking about greed and the banks.
I am referring to the first item the Senator raised. I cannot get through all the ones she raised.
I was talking about greed and the banks.
Please, Senator O'Donnell.
I am calling for a debate in the House on the diaspora.
The concern I raise is similar. Many of the matters raised are similar but it is important that we learn a valuable lesson from leaving certificate students. We cannot have next year’s examinations being brought into question because we are not paying teachers properly.
This year, people who were qualified in their field were asked to correct examinations but they were not qualified teachers. The shortage of available qualified teachers this year forced the hiring of individuals outside the sector to correct examinations. That brought the correction process into question and filled many students with fear and confusion.
A 30% increase on existing State Examinations Commission, SEC, pay rates is not a massive ask, given the years of austerity cuts the sector has endured. This is the Senator's issue. Teachers qualified since 2011 have not got a pay increase. That is a major issue.
That is incorrect.
We need to keep our belts tight but not so tight that we are busting at the seams. Teachers do a great deal of work for our future generations. We need to address the poor compensation they receive for correcting examination papers.
That problem is symptomatic of the wider issue of the shortage of teachers because the pay is not of a high grade when compared with the same positions internationally. The State Examinations Commission has stated that remuneration rates are increased in line with teachers' pay rates, which lead to an increase of 1% in examiner fee rates for 2018. That will increase for 2019 examinations in line with the pay restoration measures outlined in the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020.
If we are to stop the haemorrhaging of young qualified teachers abroad we need to examine this issue and ensure that in some way we can restore correct pay to a sector that is vital to our future.
The Senator's party drove a wedge through it.
These are the issues.
The Senator's party drove them away.
We are not paying teachers enough.
Her party cut their pay.
We need to make sure they do not go abroad to work. In 2011, massive changes were introduced. I ask that we have a debate on this issue and that whether it is teachers, nurses or apprentices, we keep them here in Ireland. We are sending them abroad.
The Senator's party made a mess of the economy. She has some cheek.
It is the truth.
In 2006 and 2007, the Senator's party wrecked the economy.
I second Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell's proposal.
I raise the question of the Pope's visit. I was disturbed to hear on the wireless over the weekend about groups of people who are each buying blocks of 660 tickets and then deciding not to use them in order to reduce the numbers at this event and prevent other decent people who want to go from being allowed to attend. That is extremely mean minded. I do not agree with it at all. I have issues with the Vatican but the way to deal with that is in a dignified way and not this kind of attempt to wreck the visit. I appeal to those with these large numbers of tickets to release them so that decent, ordinary Irish Catholics can go to see the Pope.
I refer to the presidential election. I notice Fianna Fáil has now thrown its weight in behind Michael D. Higgins. It has also instructed Members of the Oireachtas and members of local authorities not to support any other candidate except Michael D. That is very dangerous, and I am quite sure Fine Gael will follow suit. I was blocked during the 2011 election. I was not allowed even to speak to Galway County Council as a result of the operations of Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who was then the Mayor of Galway. She put a ban on that. This is quite wrong. On the previous occasion, until I entered the race there was going to be no race. The political parties were hugger-muggering. They were moving towards selecting an agreed candidate because the parties do not like having presidential races. They have absolute contempt for the Office of the President in political terms. They could not be bothered running anybody.
I know they say Michael D. is an excellent candidate, which he is, and he has been a very good President, but in a general election, if candidate Kelly from Fine Gael was an excellent candidate would Fianna Fáil stand back and say, "Ah no. We wouldn't go up against Deputy Kelly. He's an excellent candidate".
They would not.
Of course they would not because they take it seriously. They do not take seriously-----
I know that but that is no reason to block other people. The Senator's party is blocking other people. That is what I am objecting to. You can suck up to Michael D. as much as you like.
The Senator had a free run the last time.
Everything is rigged in favour of the political parties.
It is not.
It certainly is. The nomination process is heavily rigged in favour of the political parties. The parties do not have to go through any process. They just decide to plonk somebody in.
Thank you. Time, Senator.
Okay, but there were quite a few interruptions. In addition, the finance is totally skewed to massively favour the parties. At the Constitutional Convention I put forward a motion that would amend that. It was passed by 98% of the people present. It was by far the highest percentage and nothing has ever been done about it. We must look at the office of the presidency in terms of the way in which it is regulated, the method of nomination and the method of financing to ensure we have a level playing field to allow people go for election.
Finally, I am fed up listening to people saying, "Oh, I would go only for Michael D." Why do they not have the courage the go anyway?
I ran. Michael D. ran. I was a great friend and colleague of Michael D. and I said to him that if I was not running myself, I would be out on a bus canvassing for him. That is how highly I felt about him, but it did not stop me because I wanted to run. We should encourage that kind of attitude in people because with the best will in the world, do we want a President who will be 85 in the last year?
Forget about saying "ageism". It is the truth.
The Senator is bending the rules. He is well over the time.
He has been doing it for years.
I will defer to the Cathaoirleach as long as we recognise that the political parties are bending the rules in running for the Presidency.
They are not.
I seek clarification on two issues. First, is the Senator suggesting he is running?
Here we go.
Regrettably, since my cancer operation, I have not had the energy or the strength. I would also be too old.
Second, on a more serious point, Senator David Norris referred to Deputy Hildegarde Naughton. I would prefer if he did not, as I am not sure whether she acted on her own on the issue. I would prefer Members of the Lower House not to be mentioned in the context of issues that are of an historical nature.
I thank the Senator.
I will drive Senator David Norris around the country if he decides to run.
Is the Senator running?
No, but I will drive Senator David Norris around.
What will the Senator do?
If the Senator puts his name forward, I will drive him around the country if he is not able to do so himself.
As that is an offer I can hardly refuse, I will have to consider it.
I agree with Senator Kieran O'Donnell about upskilling people who are returning to work. Training programmes are designed for people who are unemployed, but there is now virtually full employment. As such, the regime needs to be flipped around and we need to start training people who are in work for a changing economy.
I welcome the GAA's decision to fulfil the fixture between Kildare and Mayo in Newbridge. It is a great decision. Getting a home venue in the draw was good for Kildare in the first instance, but the GAA administrators made a mess of it. They have eventually found their common sense, read their own rule book and decided that the fixture should go ahead in Newbridge on Saturday. I will welcome everyone from Mayo to Kildare where most Mayo supporters are living not only for the GAA match at 7 p.m. but also the Irish Derby at the Curragh earlier in the afternoon.
I wish to raise a simple issue which the Leader might note and pass on to the Minister for Education and Skills. A request has been made for an ASD unit at a secondary school, Columba College, in Killucan which was refused previously. Some of the kids in the area must travel more than 50 miles to be accommodated in an adequate second level ASD unit. Many representations have been made. On the ground, the county mayor, Mr. Jonathan Shaw, as well as Deputies Robert Troy and Peter Burke have been raising the matter, on which there is cross-party unity. The school has a new principal, Mr. Dermot Brady, who is doing great work. If the Leader could mention the request to the Minister, I would be delighted to hear the response.
I thank the Senator for his brevity.
I join the calls for a debate on education, in particular, teacher shortages and pay equalisation. I understand there is an ongoing conversation between the teacher unions and the Minister for Education and Skills and the Department. To refresh the memories of some Members in this Chamber who may have forgotten, pay inequality started on 1 January 2011, prior to the 2011 general election. It is high time the House had a conversation about teacher shortages and pay inequality and the associated issue of correcting examination papers. As there is low morale in the teaching profession as matters stand, this House needs to show leadership by finding solutions. It comes down to pay and respect.
I encourage all Senators to advise their constituents or people with whom they have connections that the Department of Health has an ongoing consultation process this month on the possession of illegal drugs for personal use. It is a welcome survey which can be completed quickly. It feeds into the national conversation about the potential for the decriminalisation of drug use. Having held a public meeting last night in Donnycarney with Fr. Peter McVerry, Senator Lynn Ruane and Ms Anna Quigley of CityWide, the public is interested in changing our approach. The change in approach in Portugal 15 years ago has led to a 50% reduction in the number of people involved in heroin addiction programmes and a 75% reduction in the number of deaths by fatal overdose. Were that to happen in Ireland, there would be a major change in the addiction problem. We have significant addiction issues, with the third highest fatal overdose rate in Europe.
If the Cathaoirleach will permit me to do so, I congratulate the GAA on its decision this morning to hold the game between Kildare and Mayo in Newbridge on Saturday night. Some may criticise Senators for raising GAA matters in the House, but the GAA is an important organisation in the country. The decision that Kildare will play the game in Newbridge on Saturday night is a very good one. I congratulate Kildare, in particular, for taking a stand and winning out. One never knows - that level of enthusiasm and motivation might continue with Kildare's efforts on the field. As a Dub, we will beat whoever comes out of the game.
There is such a thing as false modesty.
Tá na Ciarraígh ag teacht.
That is the worry.
I agree with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in her view on the Sparkasse banking model, for which Ireland is waiting. From speaking to people at the German embassy, I know that it has been a major success. It is a local bank and a people's bank. We need to do more in that regard. It would help the Irish banking system.
I agree with Senators Victor Boyhan and David Norris. We are in a very dangerous situation. Recently I read an interesting article written by Fr. Gerard Moloney in The Irish Times which was headed, "Beware the new Ireland does not become as oppressive as the old". He wrote:
A healthy church does not require the state to enforce its moral code for it, as the Irish church did. A strong state does not abandon the care of its most vulnerable citizens to private religious institutions, as the Irish State did.
I listened to people on radio recently. What is happening is petty and cynical and denying people the right to see the Pope or their spiritual leader. We talk about celebrating diversity and encouraging difference, but what is happening does not do that. I appeal to those who are using this situation. What is happening is petty and wrong and they do not have the support of the vast majority of people in the State. I listened to a vox pop on radio when people were asked whether they had obtained tickets to see the Pope in Knock or Dublin. Most of those leaving mass were elderly and did not have the wherewithal to apply online, but they were not complaining. They have been the backbone not just of the Catholic Church but also of the State; therefore, I would be disappointed if they were left out of a unique, significant and joyous occasion. I hope the church and the organisers have some mechanism in place to ensure elderly people - the ones interviewed were committed churchgoers - will receive tickets.
Unfortunately, with everything being done online, they are being left out.
I would like to say a few sentences about last Sunday's Ulster football finals in Clones which I had the pleasure of attending. I congratulate Donegal on winning the senior championship and Derry on its success in the U20 championship. As the House knows, the senior match was attended by the leader of the DUP, Ms Arlene Foster. It was a positive and welcome development. From speaking to GAA personnel at the game, the visit went well; she was gracefully received and enjoyed the day out. She was duly accompanied by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I look forward to seeing both attending many more GAA matches in the days and years ahead.
I wish to discuss Clones as a venue. The GAA is considering building a new stadium in Casement Park in Belfast. That is to be welcomed, but I ask the Leader to use his good offices and intervene with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The carnival atmosphere in Clones last Sunday was something to behold.
The sun was high in the sky. One can imagine a crowd of more than 30,000 assembled in a small rural town such as Clones, with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. The good people of Clones opened their arms, as they do every year, to all the visitors who came for the final. The atmosphere was marvellous and could not be replicated anywhere else in the country.
Another issue is the economic benefit such a crowd brings to a town like Clones. We all speak of trying to sustain rural Ireland. The difference an Ulster final makes to a town like Clones is the difference between businesses being able to keep their doors open and having to close their doors. That is the reality, as business owners will tell us. Holding an Ulster final in Belfast would be no big deal for the city because its population is so large and it hosts different events every day of the week. However, for a town like Clones, hosting the Ulster final is the difference between businesses being able to keep their doors open and closing down. I ask the Leader to raise this issue with the Minister of State with responsibility for sport and perhaps liaise with the GAA, which has roots in every parish in rural and urban Ireland, to have it consider retaining the Ulster final in its true birthplace of Clones.
The Senator is in injury time.
We need video assisted refereeing.
I am probably in stoppage time at this stage. I certainly hope we will not have VAR in the House after the soccer match the other night involving Iran and a penalty.
I thank the 12 Members for their contributions. I begin with Senator Ardagh's comments on the important and welcome decision of the Government to take in 25 immigrants. I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Taoiseach on their decision. I agree with Senator Ardagh that a conversation is needed on immigration, not least because Ireland is an open nation that welcomes and embraces people. We should be a safe harbour for people and give them the reception we received in many parts of the world when we travelled abroad as emigrants.
We have made changes to the work permits scheme, although I accept that we have a road to travel on the issue of direct provision. The Government decided in 2015 to enter the European system of relocation and we are very much committed to that mechanism. The evidence of that is also seen in the bravery and heroic work of the Naval Service in the Mediterranean in saving lives and bringing people safely ashore. I would be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to discuss the matter.
On the issue of housing, which was also raised by other Senators, the Government has taken action in this area. We have had planning reform and the launch of an affordable housing scheme, with further models of affordability set to be implemented. A new land development agency has been created and Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, has been launched. Policies take time. Some of the Senators opposite, who do not want history lessons and do not like to hear facts as opposed to fake news-----
Fine Gael has been in power since 2011.
I am very fond of Senator Ardagh but she should look at what we have done in seven years. We have almost full employment and we have turned the country around. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, was here this week. When she was last here, we had the men of the IMF coming in with their suitcases on dark, grey nights.
We have people leaving the country.
The bailiffs were at the door, people were emigrating in their droves, the construction sector was gone, the banking model had collapsed and the country was on its knees.
All I hear from the Members opposite is "ochón agus ochón agus ochón."
There are 10,000 people homeless in 2018.
The Senators have a brass neck coming in here and lamenting the fact that we have the greatest number of people at work in the history of the State. We are near full employment. Under Fianna Fáil's watch, we had 15.8% unemployment.
Governments do not create jobs; businesses do.
The Fianna Fáil Government wrecked the country and Senator Gallagher should be ashamed of it.
If the Leader thinks the recovery is down to the brilliance of Fine Gael, which oversaw the farce that was Irish Water, he has another think coming.
I think the Senators are saying we have not reached utopia yet.
Recent statistics show a 45.7% increase in construction activity. I assure the Senators opposite that the Government is bringing the same determination to housing as it brought to the Action Plan for Jobs. I accept the frustration of Members with regard to housing but we should put the issue in perspective. I mean this genuinely. Our construction sector was decimated and our banking system had collapsed. We are now starting to see activity recommence. Policies take time. I agree with Senator Ardagh's point on the need for greater use of State land and for compellability regarding the use of land for social and affordable housing.
Senators Boyhan, Norris, Feighan and Conway-Walsh raised the visit of Pope Francis in August. I share the views expressed by Members that the attempts by some to use the online booking system to deny people the opportunity to go and see Pope Francis is pathetic and wrong. We live in a republic and the essence of a republic is that we can celebrate diversity and people can also choose whether to celebrate or not celebrate religion, as the case may be. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that everyone, whether he or she is a Christian, atheist, Muslim or Jew, is allowed to celebrate the visit of the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, to our country in August. Like Senator Norris, I have certain views about how the church has changed. I spent five years in a seminary with my good friend, Senator Wilson, and the model of church I would like to see is not one that represses people but one that embraces and welcomes people. That is why I believe it is important that when the Pope visits at the end of August, as many as possible of those who wish to celebrate his visit are able to do so. I also hope family, in its diversity and in all its forms, will be celebrated, not just the nuclear family in which some people exclusively believe.
Senator Feighan rightly quoted an article from Fr. Gerard Moloney. We must be careful that in a new modern Ireland, we do not return to the days of repressing people because they are in a minority or certain category. We should be able to have an opinion and voice and articulate it. We should do so in a manner that is free and safe and where we do not have trolls on social media or some of the know-alls in the commentariat taking us all down with their different viewpoints.
I very much welcome the visit of Pope Francis. I hope those people who wish to join him while he is here will be able to do so in an manner that is respectful and safe and that we will herald his visit. This will be the second time a Pope has visited our country and it is a good day for the country when he can come. I wish everybody involved in the organisation of World Family Day and its associated events every success.
Senator Boyhan also referred to housing. Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of agency staff, on which I spoke yesterday when Senator Devine raised the matter. A discussion is needed on agency staff and their employment and use in the HSE. We spend vast amounts of money on them and while they are obviously required in some cases owing to the nature of work, sickness and temporary replacements, the model for the use of agency staff needs to be changed.
Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Kieran O'Donnell and Frank Feighan raised the issue of community banking. In response to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, whose right to move an amendment to the Order of Business I fully respect, I understand her passion about the importance of community banking and the need for competition for our pillar banks. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is not the Minister with responsibility for community banking. The report referred to by the Senator was presented to Cabinet on 22 May. It has not been published. In a reply to a parliamentary question last week, the Minister for Rural and Community Development indicated the report had been completed.
It has been submitted to Government and will be published shortly. I will further say to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell that the ongoing consultation on the publication of the report is important. I make an assurance to her that, upon the publication of the report by Government, which I believe is imminent, we will debate it in the House. We cannot debate a report that has not been published. The points raised by and linked with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell about community banking are very important. I believe that affordable housing is an issue on which we need to see absolute urgency and expedition in Government policy. It is critical. As Senator O'Donnell said, we want to see people come home to Ireland to live, work, rear their families and be contributors to our society and economy. We are close to full employment. I accept the premise of Senator O'Donnell's argument that we need competition. We also need a functioning pillar bank system.
We need competition and-----
We do not have competition.
I agree with the Senator, if she will do me the courtesy of listening to me. I am not against her but for her.
The Senator sounds as if he is.
I am not.
That is because the Senator is not listening.
I am listening.
I am saying that-----
There is no competition.
There must be competition.
That is philosophy. I am into the reality now.
There are two parts to the argument and that is the bottom line.
It is not.
Is the Leader accepting the amendment to the Order of Business?
I am not. We cannot debate a report that has not been published. I gave a commitment in my response that as soon as the report is published, I will have a debate on the issue in the House. I cannot debate a report that is not published. To be fair to the House, I think it would agree with that. I am not trying to stop the debate.
It is obfuscation.
Will Senator Buttimer indicate when it will be?
I do not have that. I have the reply from a parliamentary question on 14 June. I made inquiries with the Minister's private secretary and all I can do is act as an honest broker. I do not come in here to obfuscate or deny debate. I have come here to give the facts as I have had them presented to me. I will endeavour to get a date. I will give an assurance to the House that as soon as the report is published, we will have the debate in the House.
A point of order.
A point of clarification.
If the Leader listened to what I said, I was talking about bringing the Minister, Deputy Naughten, in to start the debate on community banking.
He is not responsible for it.
This is fantastic stuff. He is in charge of the post offices.
He is not in charge of-----
We are speaking about community banking because it was going to be channelled through the post offices and we were not going to build little tin huts around the country where they could find a place. The idea that he is now not in charge of something is complete obfuscation.
No. This is like-----
There is one way out of this.
Can I just clarify-----
Senator O'Donnell can press her amendment.
That is her prerogative. I inform the House as a matter of courtesy so that it understands-----
I understand obfuscation when I hear it.
Let me bring clarity to the Members so that we can understand where I am coming from. The Minister for Rural and Community Development-----
He used to be in charge of post offices and then ran away from them.
-----and the Department of Finance have been working together to investigate the feasibility of a new model of community banking for our country. That includes the German Sparkassen model for the development of local public banks. The Department has engaged in a process of public consultation to seek views about the concept of the community banking model. The report has been completed. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, have submitted the report to Government for consideration. The Minister, in a reply to a parliamentary question on 14 June, said he anticipates the report will be published very shortly. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, is not responsible for community banking-----
It is the Minister, Deputy Ring, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, who has responsibility. Historically, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, would have been responsible but that is not the case now. I will keep going with the reply to the Order of Business.
I cannot allow-----
Can I finish on this? I have asked for-----
The Senator can press her amendment.
The Senator should stop it. He was watching his phone anyway and not even listening.
The Senator was not listening. He never listens. He only listens to his own voice and then goes on his phone.
I cannot allow people to come back in.
I do not bring technological advantage into this House. I use my own brain and voice and listen to what other Senators have to say, which is something the Labour Party does not do.
Do not make disparaging remarks.
He should not make them at me.
The Senator has a very simple solution. If she is not happy with his response, she can press the amendment. She is quite entitled to.
I will reiterate my cast iron guarantee to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. As soon as the report is published, I give a commitment to the House that we will debate the report in this Chamber. I cannot publish the report. I cannot have a debate until the Government publishes it. The Minister will come in to talk about nothing until the report is published. I agree with the Senator that we need to have competition. I am not against her. I am supportive of what she wants to achieve. Please understand that I do not have the power and this House does not have the power to compel the Government to publish a report and to have a debate on a report that has not been published would be complete folly. I want to see the Senator achieve her result and will work with her to do that if she will allow me to. I am not against her at all.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of the diaspora. It is an important issue that we should have a debate on. I join with him in congratulating the Irish rugby team on its tremendous test result in Australia last weekend. It was fantastic to see the success of the Irish team on the field. As Senator O'Donnell said, they had a 16th man with the Irish supporters. That was heartening. We must encourage people to come home and we must ensure that our young people return here. We have had too many in a lost generation who were forced to emigrate. Now that our country is recovering, I hope they will come back and become net contributors to our economy.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of exams. To be fair, there has been a lot of commentary about the State Examinations Commission and who can correct exams. It has become a bit of a political football now. There have always been people correcting exam papers who are not teachers. I have been a teacher for 16 or 17 years and I want to see the integrity of the exam system and process upheld. To come in here and say that a small portion of examiners who are qualified in a subject area are not good enough sends the wrong message.
No. A point of correction-----
Please, Senator Murnane O'Connor-----
No, no, that is totally wrong.
Listen to the Chair, please. Sit down.
That is absolutely, totally wrong.
Please, sit down.
I said there has been confusion. I never said anything about anyone correcting them.
Please sit down.
Can I make the point that when the Leader is responding-----
He was wrong.
Please listen to me for a second. I am the Chair. It is most abnormal and unusual that anyone would come in when the Leader is responding. I allowed Senator O'Donnell on a point of clarification.
I had a point of clarification.
I cannot allow people to hop up and hop down and interrupt the business.
On a point of clarification, he was wrong.
The Senator can clarify tomorrow.
The State Examinations Commission is an independent body which operates and is responsible for the running of our State exams. It appoints examiners to correct junior certificate and leaving certificate papers. It behoves all of us as public representatives to uphold the integrity and not to create fear or scaremonger about the process and outcome of the leaving certificate results. The exam papers have always been and will always be corrected properly because there are checks and balances, conferences, meetings and a way in which we do it. Please let us not cause fear for the young people who have just finished their exams.
I did not say that.
I am not saying the Senator said that but she is inferring that by her commentary. Let us make it quite clear that a rigorous examiner process is gone through. Their work is monitored by examiners who are experienced supervisors and by senior members of the examination team who go through sample papers and check the exam scripts during every week that the exam correction season is on. This is not just people coming into their back gardens on a sunny day, throwing the papers up in the air and ticking the boxes.
No one said that.
I heard what the Senator said.
I said there was confusion.
Please respect the Chair.
I think the Leader is confused. He is very confused.
I think the sunstroke is not on this side of the Chamber.
Senator Norris referred to the presidential election. My best contribution to the presidential election is to stay out of it.
Or stand yourself, Senator.
Perhaps if I got the 20 nominations I could run. I am sure Fianna Fáil would sign my papers in the morning to get rid of me.
The Senator would be an ideal candidate.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
We have agreement at long last.
We will await the decision of An tUachtarán on his position before we have a debate on the presidential election. I think that Senator Norris saying the political parties are rigging the system is incorrect. It is not rigged. The Constitution makes provision for 20 Members of the Oireachtas and four county or city councils to nominate a candidate. That is open to all people. It is not fair to say it is rigged. Again, the words we use are important.
I concur with Senator Lawlor's views on upskilling people. I too join Senators Ó Ríordáin and Lawlor in congratulating the Kildare county board on its wonderful first leg and the result that the match will be played in Newbridge. Common sense prevailed. I know it was raised yesterday on the Order of Business but to be fair it is a good day for Cumann Lúthchleas Gael that it has allowed the match to be played in St. Conleth's Park. I want to wish both Mayo and Kildare every success on Saturday night.
On Saturday, 30 June, we have the greatest sporting day in the Irish horse racing calendar, the Irish Derby in the Curragh. It is the showcase for what is best about Irish racing. Horse racing is a significant, positive and a world class event. We are world leaders in horse racing and thoroughbred breeding. I wish every success to those at the Derby on Saturday.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of the Killucan ASD unit. Would he consider raising it as a Commencement matter? I will certainly pass the matter on to the Minister.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of pay equalisation. The discussion is ongoing between the Minister, the Departments and the unions. I think we all want to see pay equalisation restored and see the pay of our teachers restored, in particular for young teachers. I think the point he made about the Department of Health consultation around personal use of illegal drugs is one we should all support because it will lead to positive outcomes, as his statistics have shown.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the visit of Pope Francis, which I discussed.
Senator Gallagher painted a wonderful picture of Clones. The one sporting event that I would love to go to is the Ulster final in Clones. Growing up we had the imagery of Michael O'Hehir and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh on the radio broadcasting from Clones. The Senator is right that it is an electric venue, with the amphitheatre that is the Clones pitch in addition to the wonderful town. An Ulster final brings economic benefits to Clones. An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael brings economic benefits to our cities and towns and Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to the importance of An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. I was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday night and in spite of the result, the atmosphere and the economic benefit to Cork city afterwards was tangible. Next Sunday we will be in Thurles for the Munster Hurling Final, the greatest sporting event in the world. These sporting events bind us all together. I agree with the Senator that I would not like to see Clones not being the headquarters for An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael in Ulster. I do not want to tell them what to do, but I think there are plans to develop Casement Park.
I am happy to share Senator Gallagher's view on the importance of Clones with the Minister. The presence of Arlene Foster with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, in Clones last Sunday was a positive. As I said yesterday, 25 years ago one would not see a DUP politician outside the ground never mind inside it. I hope it will be a catalyst for the return of government in Stormont. The importance of that event cannot be underestimated.
I cannot accept the amendment by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell because the report has not been published. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is not the Minister with responsibility for community banking, but I would be happy to work with Senator O'Donnell to have that debate when the report is published.
Before another row erupts I would like at this juncture to welcome a group of visitors in the Gallery from God's own country the parish of Muintir Bhaire, Durrus and Durrus Men's Shed.
Up to four months ago, I was somewhat oblivious and ignorant of the tremendous work that men's sheds do until they invited me to one of their meetings. It was an eye opener for me. I think they do tremendous work. They should be applauded for their camaraderie. I am not sure how they found their way up in this fine weather. I crossed the Goats Path, Cosan an Gahair, yesterday morning at 10.30 a.m. and I thought I was already in heaven, but I found out that I was not dead. The group are most welcome and I hope they enjoy their visit.
As a proud Cork man, may I welcome my fellow Corkonians to the Gallery.
In keeping with the sporting theme, I know west Cork is supposed to be the home of football but if we have a couple of footballers in the Gallery we could do with them on Sunday week. The group is very welcome.
I am very disappointed that the Leader did not recognise fellow Corkmen.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the publication of a report on the introduction of community banking be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
May I ask the Leader if it would be possible, since a precedent was set by the then Senator Averil Power in the last Seanad, that when the report is published we might be able to arrange that both the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Rural and Community Development or the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment come to the Chamber?
In the spirt of compromise and partnership that we have a rolling debate-----
Love and affection.
-----that we would have one Minister for one part of the debate and the next day we would have a second Minister. I am not against the Senator. I am trying to help her out.
I would be well able for both of them.
Is the amendment being pressed?