The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.
Order of Business
Despite what one might call, pardon the pun, the healthy economic indicators that are with us now, our hospital waiting lists have never been as long. There are 711,000 people on inpatient and outpatient waiting lists, which is a staggering percentage of the population. We also have acute shortages in consultants and nurses in hospitals, leaving our most vulnerable citizens without access and, probably more important, timely access to necessary services. According to the Irish Medical Organisation, in excess of 400 consultant positions remain unfilled. Overcrowding costs lives and must stop. We need to improve and increase capacity, recruit the necessary staff and increase resources for the National Treatment Purchase Fund in the short and long term. I ask that the Minister for Health come to the House at some point to outline how he intends to reduce waiting lists and tackle the issues I raise. I am sure lots of work is being done but it is important that we find out exactly what is being done to tackle waiting lists specifically and the many vacancies in the health service.
Yesterday, Electric Ireland announced an increase in its residential electricity prices by 6.2% and residential gas prices by 8%. It is estimated that these price hikes will add an extra €56 to the average annual electricity bill and €55 to the average annual gas bill. According to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, during the past 12 months, 29% of households were unable to afford to keep their homes warm. While the issue of people trying to keep people warm is probably not one to raise on a day like today - the opposite is probably the case - the proposed increases in electricity and fuel charges will affect many people. The Government must make sure there are safeguards in place, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Litter, particularly in Dublin and Dublin city centre, is another factor associated with the current weather conditions. Dublin City Council provides a good service but it needs to ramp it up during this period, particularly around canals and beaches. The capacity that is normally required falls far short of what is needed for these kinds of days. In many cases, people trying to deposit rubbish they find that bins are full. Extra staff are needed in Dublin City Council and other councils. The chief executive of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan, was the county manager in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council when I sat on the council. I know he has staff but extra capacity is needed, not only for tourists, although that is also important, but for citizens visiting or living in Dublin. Senators are fond of referring to seagulls but I saw a seagull pecking at a bag, opening it and getting all the rubbish out. We need adequate capacity and extra bins for this time of the year.
The so-called McLibel case in the European Court of Human Rights concerned the right of all citizens to paid legal representation. There are people who are unable to access free legal aid in cases involving the repossession of family farms and residential properties by banks and various vulture funds. Promises were made to provide free legal aid. Will the Leader find out when the Government will provide free legal aid for people who are facing this difficulty? My understanding is that it is a European right and that Ireland is in breach of a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights because it does not provide this right for citizens. I ask the Leader for a response? Yvonne Walsh has been in jail for 55 days arising from a case involving the attempted repossession of her house.
The House will be aware that yesterday, Mr. Chris Patten, a former junior Minister in Northern Ireland and former chairman of the Policing Commission, was in Dublin and raised serious concerns about Brexit. He referred to a nationalist rage getting the UK into a terrible mess in an effort to control trade policy and take back control from the EU, and said that ultimately the UK will end up taking the rules that determine commerce from other places, such as China or even the United States. He said there is no doubt that ideology is overruling common sense and rational thinking. He went on to say: "It is strange that as Ireland has become more pluralist, more extrovert, more committed to individual liberty and human rights as a constructive member of the European Union, Britain has become less comfortable and has felt less at home as a member of the Union to which it has belonged pretty much on its own terms."
As the sand rapidly runs through the hourglass we are getting more concerned that no deal due to intransigence could be a reality. It is a horrendous situation for Ireland, North and South. I have no doubt that Northern Ireland will be collateral damage in any such scenario. The other collateral damage will be to the rural economy in Ireland. Yesterday in Dublin Castle, at the national economic dialogue event, a number of stakeholders made representations and raised concerns about economic uncertainty. Figures shared with me by the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, indicate that the agrifood industry is Ireland's largest indigenous industry. It supports 300,000 jobs, creating €26 billion in turnover, and currently is in one of the areas of the Border conundrum that has proved too difficult a nut to crack. If the figures are correct, and I have no doubt they are, a proposed cut in Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, support of 5%, with a 2% proxy rate of inflation applied, actually amounts to a potential 17% loss in real terms. Translated into finances is a further €3,004 reduction in the average income. That is unacceptable. Coupled with a potential distortion in trade, tariff implications, production costs and added uncertainty, it leaves the rural economy in a very precarious situation. Mr. Chris Patten said yesterday that the UK needs to work closely with its neighbours in order to look after its own interests, but that this argument had not been heard very often at Westminster.
Yesterday, the summer economic statement was discussed in the House. It referred to growth in the economy and an ambition to ensure steady and sustainable growth. However, the challenge to this will be to mitigate these risks and ensure that due to extremely high levels of rainfall we have enough in the coffers to address calling on any rainy day fund. It is concerning that for us the first priority is a resolution to the Brexit discussion whereas at today’s EU Council meeting it is far from the top of the agenda. Summer time and a heatwave must not distract from the importance and significance of negotiating and getting agreement on what the potential position post Brexit could look like and what it will deliver for Ireland.
Can the Leader schedule a debate in the House on the implementation of the national drugs strategy? A debate on that is being held in the Dáil and it should also occur here given that the consultation process on decriminalisation is taking place. Perhaps that could be arranged for before the summer recess. On a related issue, I invite Senators to a briefing I am holding next Tuesday. It will involve a group of service users who have been in and out of drugs services for many years, including methadone clinics. They have joined with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to produce an in-depth report on what they see as human rights abuses for them as service users. They are coming here to launch the report for the Oireachtas. It will be a good opportunity to talk face-to-face with them, a human rights commissioner and a doctor. The report, entitled "Our Life, Our Voice, Our Say", makes 28 recommendations. One of them refers to supervised urine tests and how degrading and inhumane it is to have to do this constantly with doctors and in clinics. I urge Members to come along at 11.30 a.m. on 3 July to support them and hear what they have to say.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that non-Government motion No. 11 on the Order Paper be taken without debate before No. 1.
I also wish to raise the sex offenders register. Yesterday, I heard the case of a young woman, and it is covered further today, who made her identity public recently. She was raped at 11 years of age and last year found out by chance, as she lives in a small town, that the rapist was appealing to be removed from the sex offenders register. She waived her right to anonymity as she is seeking that victims be notified when their attackers seek to be removed from the register. There is no formal process by law for victims to be notified. This is a flaw in the system. Can the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to address this in the House? He has said that there are proposals for a new sex offenders amendment Bill, which I believe is in the drafting stage, to ensure victims are notified of the intention to remove an attacker or rapist from the register. This would keep victims safe and informed.
You raised the good weather, a Chathaoirligh, and it is great to see so many people in the capital city enjoying themselves at concerts and outdoor events. However, there has been a downside to that due to the excessive use of alcohol and public order offences. With an increasing number of outdoor events it is necessary to have a set of standards nationwide to ensure the safety of young people, and not so young people in the case of Billy Joel, attending concerts and open air events with regard to policing, access to alcohol and the general inconvenience for neighbouring properties in respect of noise. Certainly, things went badly wrong in the case of the open air events in the RDS and we were very lucky not to end up with any fatalities. The Killers concert on Sunday night was an example of what can go wrong in the vicinity of an open air event when there are no proper safeguards for the public attending it. There is a need for guidelines. This is not just a Dublin issue. Open air events take place throughout the country.
Turning to an equally serious matter, I wish to raise the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 which is currently before the House and is due to be debated today. Grave concerns have been raised about it not only by our senior judges, who have said clearly that there has been no indepth consultation on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross's Bill, which is being taken through the House by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, but also by the European watchdog, which has poured scorn on the Bill. The Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, is due to issue a report shortly. I am gravely concerned about giving consideration to the Bill before that report has been published and the Government comments on it. We are putting ourselves in the same position as Poland and other eastern European countries. While the Bill is considered very important by the Minister, Deputy Ross, and certainly he has a level of vanity about it, we must take account of the greater interest regarding how our judges are appointed and how we safeguard the Judiciary and its independence.
With that in mind I am proposing the following amendment to the Order of Business, that Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 not be taken before September to enable the Seanad to receive and consider the as yet unpublished report touching on the issue from the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption and to consider the Government response, if any, to that report.
I welcome the fact that there will be 37 extra special needs assistants, SNAs, in Limerick in both primary and secondary schools in the coming academic year. It is a 42% increase on 2011 and will bring the number of SNAs in Limerick to a total of 606. Education is vital for the future of primary and secondary school students and this is very welcome news.
This week, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, announced there would be a third terminal at Dublin Airport. I hope this will not be done at the expense of Shannon and Cork airports. Project Ireland 2040 places great emphasis on providing a counterbalance to Dublin on the western seaboard. Development is needed outside Dublin because the capital is oversubscribed, so to speak. The announcement of a third terminal and runway for Dublin Airport raises the question of whether this will be at the expense of airports in the west. I understand a report on the development of State owned airports up to 2050 is to be released shortly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House when the report is published to debate the development of airports. We must ensure the western seaboard is not forgotten, especially Shannon Airport.
I request that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come into the House to intervene in a dispute between Roscommon County Council management and the Fórsa trade union. There are now two days of strike action taking place every Tuesday and Thursday in Roscommon which is very disruptive. The matter has been before the Workplace Relations Commission seven times and has been the subject of two Labour Court hearings and three clarifications. I am told by Fórsa that Roscommon County Council is the only local authority in which flexible leave is banned. This concession applied to Fórsa members in Roscommon for 17 years, as it did in all other local authorities. According to the trade union, the business cases for granting flexibility leave cannot have disappeared overnight.
It is not our responsibility, as Members of the Oireachtas, to get involved in industrial disputes. I suggest that the Leader communicate with the Minister responsible, with a view to asking Mr. Kieran Mulvey, who was involved in labour relations for 25 years until his retirement in 2016, to arbitrate in this dispute as a last resort. Mr. Mulvey was the head of the Labour Relations Commission, now the Workplace Relations Commission. He is also from Roscommon and he and I were both brought up in Roscommon Town. There has been a breakdown in communications between the trade union in question and management and an independent outside expert should be brought in to resolve the matter as it is causing major disruption to the people in County Roscommon who are affected by the withdrawal of labour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is also difficult for the staff who are protesting and on strike today. These matters should be resolved. Over the years, there have been many good negotiations, resulting in the Haddington Road and other agreements. I hope an intervention will be made sooner rather than later.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Devine.
I wish everyone a safe, happy and healthy Dublin Pride and encourage people to join the protest on Saturday at 2 p.m. from St. Stephen's Green south. The We are Family theme chosen for Pride this year is not a coincidence given that the World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin this year. I commend the LGBT community on leading the way in building a new Ireland and, as global community, on leading the way in building a different world. The persecution of our brothers and sisters around the globe impacts members of the LGBT community wherever we are and causes us great stress. It also adds to fear and becomes internalised. Knowing that people are persecuted for having the same characteristics as I and others have leads to social withdrawal and causes us to identify with that persecution on a small level, although obviously not on a fatal scale. LGBT people around the world who experience violence, hate and discrimination are counting on us in Ireland to implement laws that protect individuals in being who they are. This will provide international examples of law that are effective and work. We will highlight and address these issues in this country because we can do so. I call for international solidarity. I also look forward to the launch of the LGBTI national youth strategy tomorrow by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. I am hopeful that the strategy will include actions to ban conversion therapy. I am also in contact with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on the issue. I ask the Leader to encourage the Government to ensure this process is completed as quickly as possible.
I join Senator Warfield in wishing everyone a happy Pride in the week that is in it and commend him on his work on conversion therapy.
I second the motion put forward by my colleague, Senator Humphreys, seeking to adjourn Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill and providing that the Seanad will not take Committee Stage until we have received and considered the unpublished report from the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption, GRECO. We need time to allow us to consider the Government's response, if any, to the report. As Senator Humphreys stated, it is essential that we see the text of the GRECO report and the Government's response to it in advance of our debate on the amendments to this important legislation.
I raised this matter in the House on Tuesday, as did Senator Boyhan and others who expressed concern. We are effectively being asked to legislate in the dark without sight of the Government's amendments or what it proposes to do in response to serious criticisms. GRECO has expressed significant concerns about the composition of the judicial appointment's commission, as proposed in the Bill. It also considers that the proposals represent a move that is not in line with European standards. This is a very serious critique of the proposals that are being driven through government like a speedy chariot by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. This is not a good way to legislate. We should be able to see the report and the Government's response. We should also be able to see what the Government proposes to do by way of amendments. We were in the dark during Second Stage when we did not have sight of any of this. On behalf of the Labour group, I have submitted 20 amendments to the Bill without prejudice. I am hopeful we will have time to be able to consider the GRECO criticisms before we debate them.
I am afraid the proposal by Senators Humphreys and Bacik to amend the Order of Business is in this instance both presumptive and anticipatory because the purpose of the Order of Business is to make arrangements for the taking of the business of the day. It is not proposed to take the Bill in question today. Therefore, however meritorious the Senators' cause, I suggest they find another way to pursue it. If the legislation was on the schedule for today, they would be entitled to oppose the Order of Business. Under the rules and regulations governing business, it cannot be anticipated that it will be scheduled next week. If it is scheduled next week, the Senators should oppose the Order of Business on the relevant day. I regret that I must rule the amendment out of order.
Committee Stage of the Bill was originally proposed for today, as indicated in the schedule, as originally published.
The Order of Business, as outlined by the Leader on behalf of the Government, is for today's business. I cannot deal with the business of next week or the week after. The Senators' amendment anticipates certain business being taken. However meritorious or valid their objections, this is not an appropriate time to deal with them. Consequently, I am ruling the amendment out of order with regret. The schedule is not a proposal to the House. I call the Leader to respond.
I thank the nine Members who contributed to the Order of Business. They caught me on the hop. I was not really ready.
Perhaps Senator Buttimer was off anticipating something.
I was actually. Senator Horkan raised the issue of hospital waiting lists. They are a source of concern and Government has committed to a further allocation of funding to tackle the trolley crisis and reduce inpatient and outpatient waiting lists. We have some seen some action in terms of numbers. It is important to recognise that reducing waiting times is a priority for Government. We saw a €50 million increase in funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Under the action plan drawn by the Minister of Health, the number of patients waiting longer than nine months has fallen. It looks like the overall number of people waiting for hospital appointments and procedures will be reduced by a further 70,000. The point made by the Senator is a valid one.
He also raised the increase in electricity and gas prices by Electric Ireland. We have an independent regulator, as the House is aware. The points made by Senator Horkan are very pertinent. This is about fuel poverty and the people who are most vulnerable and who need access to heating and light - thankfully, not today because of the weather - but in the winter months. The Senator's points need to be monitored. I hope the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection with the rest of Government and the industry can look at how we can ensure that prices do not go berserk.
I concur with Senator Horkan regarding the issue of litter. Collective responsibility is needed on the part of all of us and not just because of tourists. I welcome the fact that overseas visits to Ireland have increased by 7.6%. A total of 273,300 more people have come to visit our country. It is important that the céad míle fáilte they receive also includes an impeccable public realm. All of us recognise that there are black spots that need to tackled. I concur with Senator Horkan in terms of the role city and county councils can play. I hope we would have an action plan for litter because it is a blight on our country. If one looked at the edition of "Prime Time" on the waste industry and if one looks at the individual, never mind the collective, attitude to litter, one can see that we need to do something about it because we are actually slipping as a country in terms of our attitude to litter. Senator Horkan also raised the case of Yvonne Walsh. I do not have the answer but I would be happy for the relevant Minister to come to the House. Alternatively, the Senator could table a Commencement matter.
Senator Marshall raised the very important issue of Brexit. Again, he made a wonderful contribution to the Order of Business and showed the importance of having his voice in this House. I reiterate what the Senator and Chris Patten said. It is important that the UK works with all of us to ensure we have a solution to Brexit. The Taoiseach is right as well in that it is not our duty to come up with a response to the UK, which voted to leave. However, it is important because as the Senator said, there is economic uncertainty. The worrying part of Brexit is the economic uncertainty for us and in the UK if we look at the potential number of jobs that could be lost in the UK and the potential loss to us in terms of agriculture and our economy. The point made by the Senator is very relevant. Unfortunately, I did not get to attend Chris Patten's lecture in Iveagh House last night. Today is a very important summit in the EU and I wish the Taoiseach and the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy McEntee, well. Obviously, we are heading towards an October timeframe. The points made by Senator Marshall are important. I hope that we will have an update from the European Council meeting before the summer recess.
In response to Senator Ruane, it is also my intention to have a debate if we can on the implementation of the national drugs strategy. The Senator is right. There has been a huge consultation process. I commend her on what she has been doing and I would encourage as many Members as possible to go to her briefing next Tuesday.
If I am correct, what Senator Devine is asking for in her amendment concerns No. 11, the National Asset Management Agency (Amendment) Bill 2017. Is that the one?
It is the motion regarding Lloyds Pharmacy.
Is the Senator asking for that to be taken today?
Yes, to be taken without debate.
Which one is it?
It is No. 62, motion No. 11.
I am slow to take it today on the basis that I had no foreknowledge of the motion coming before the House. I do not want to divide the House on a very important issue, which I know was raised by Senator Gavan previously, but could Senator Devine wait until next Tuesday because it is important that we get proper notification of a motion?
Is there a possibility that the Leader would accept Senator Devine's proposal next Tuesday?
Yes, there is a possibility. I do not want to divide the House. I have not read the motion, to be honest. I do not want to fly blind on this. I am not against the motion. If the Senator could wait until next Tuesday, I would be happy to take it then. Could the Senator submit it again on Tuesday?
Senator Devine also raised the issue of the proposed sex offenders amendment Bill. This is being drafted with an update-----
Senator Devine has until the end of the Order of Business to reflect on it.
My brain is ticking over just thinking about it.
I must put it formally to Senator Devine and we might see what we can do with it at that stage.
The sex offenders (amendment) Bill is being drafted to update the Sex Offenders Act. We hope to publish it in the autumn. Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the good weather in the context of public order, health and safety and alcohol misuse. I went out to Dún Laoghaire pier on Tuesday night and got caught in traffic coming back in from the concert. The Senator makes the point that we need a set of standards which we should expect and live up to in terms of holding events in or around residential areas but also in terms of behaviour and what we can and should not allow. The Senator made a good point. I commend An Garda Síochána on the work I saw last Tuesday night. Gardaí were very courteous and vigilant. Their rationale was the safety of people travelling from the concert and people stuck in traffic. I was one of them. It took 45 minutes to get back to where I was going when it would normally take me two minutes. Is it not great that we have concerts in venues like the RDS, the Aviva Stadium, Croke Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh? The Cathaoirleach has ruled on Senator Humphrey's amendment. I know the Senator will be disappointed with the ruling. He can take it up with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport at a different time.
Minister Ross or Minister Flanagan?
The Senator has a thing about the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I think it is just us.
The Leader should be careful about what kind of thing Senator Bacik has for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport so bí cúramach.
I do not know what the Cathaoirleach means.
I think we will head for the end line. Senator Byrne rightly welcomed the extra special needs assistants, SNAs, for Limerick. I commend her on her advocacy on behalf of Limerick. She is a very strong voice. It is good that more SNAs are being employed, particularly in the Limerick area. I join with Senator Byrne in calling on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with regard to airports. We must understand the importance of Shannon and Cork in our aviation policy. We should not just put the emphasis on Dublin even though it is important and a hub. The points made by Senator Byrne are very pertinent and valid in terms of the overarching policy of aviation in our country.
Senator Leyden made reference to Roscommon. I am not familiar with the details of the case about which he spoke but it is important that arbitration continues and that talking takes place. I know he made the point about Kieran Mulvey, an esteemed public servant who has done a huge amount of work in the country. His suggestion is one that could be taken up.
I join with Senators Warfield and Bacik in wishing everybody a happy Dublin Pride this weekend. It is an important visible sign of our diverse, inclusive and welcoming nation and capital city. I hope all those who participate in it enjoy themselves, do so safely and, again, hang out their brightest colours. It is certainly an event I hope will happen with good weather.
I join with Senator Warfield in welcoming the publication tomorrow of the national youth strategy and commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. I commend also Ms Una Mulally on the work she has done on the drafting of the report and in the consultative process which ends tomorrow with the publication of the report. It is important work involving a wide range of stakeholders and people. I agree with the Senator on conversion therapy and I commend him on the work he is doing in regard to that. I hope the report will be positive in that regard. It is the first LGBT strategy to be published and it is important and welcome. It is being launched in association with Dublin Pride which will hopefully send the right message.
Senators Bacik and Humphreys raised the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill and Dublin Pride.
If Senator Devine is happy to wait until next Tuesday, I would be happy to take her motion then. She can move it then.
I know this is highly irregular but while Senator Devine is gathering her thoughts, could I ask the Leader when the Heritage Bill will be before the House?
I do not have the schedule in front of me but, from memory, it will be the week of 10 July, but I am open to clarification on that. I will consult with the Senator after the Order of Business.
Senator Devine has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 62, motion 11, to be taken without debate before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?
The amendment is being pressed.
I will accept the amendment. I will not divide the House.
Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Leader. The strike is tomorrow.