The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Welfare) (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.15 p.m.; No. 2, Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2018 - all Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, with the time allocated to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes, and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 4, Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill 2018 - all Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, with the time allocated to group spokesperson for the debate on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 5, Children's Health Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 6, Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 6; and No. 8, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 7.
Order of Business
As it is our last day I hope the Leas-Chathaoirleach might indulge me a little. I will indulge him later when he launches his committee's report.
I am pleased to hear that.
Of course, any time. We had another disappointing day yesterday regarding Brexit. The vote narrowly passed but given the amendments by the hard Brexiters, it is becoming less likely that we will have a soft Brexit and more likely that we will have a no-deal Brexit. It is up to all of us to try to make sure that whatever happens we get the best deal for Ireland, in particular our own State but obviously the whole island of Ireland, including the North. I am not going to make any great points about the narrowness of the victories on the Brexiters' side but it may require Sinn Féin to examine its policy. On occasion it might want to go into Westminster because if the party's seven MPs had been present yesterday, the vote could have been overturned. I accept that they have a point and they make their abstentionist policy clear in advance of any election but perhaps in special circumstances such as this it might be worth considering a particular point when they may want to opt in. That is not directed at either of my colleagues to my right.
The Senator may want to opt-in to elections in the North.
We may do. A second point relates to water restrictions. We know they are necessary but Irish Water must liaise in particular with the businesses that operate in the evening time - licensed premises, restaurants, takeaways and so on. We have a thriving tourism industry and it is important that people can use facilities to wash their hands, flush toilets or get a glass of water. I call on Irish Water to contemplate easing the restrictions slightly, in particular on Friday and Saturday nights and every evening in the city centre core, for those businesses which not only contribute to the tourism economy but which provide much employment. The facilities are not just for tourists but for the entire population. They provide a lot of employment and pay a lot of taxes, including VAT, PAYE, PRSI, USC and rates and they must be catered for and considered in the restrictions.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that more than 7,000 individuals over the age of 75 were forced to wait more than 24 hours in emergency departments. It is another target that has been missed by the HSE. The service plan for 2018 requires that no patient over 75 should be waiting more than 24 hours in an emergency department.
What is a fairly low bar has been missed. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to the House - I appreciate that will not be done today - to outline what is being done in that regard.
I welcome that those involved in an insurance fraud in which €60,000 in damages was sought by several people for whiplash injuries in a collision involving a Hertz rental car have been directed to pay €23,000 for expenses incurred in the investigation of the claim. We should bring forward legislation to allow for those people to be prosecuted for fraud and be subject to fines and jail time, which would discourage false claims. All Members want people to be able to pursue legitimate claims but false claims must be discouraged.
A public consultation on BusConnects was launched yesterday and will continue until 28 September. It is unfortunate that it is taking place during the summer period, when many people will be on holiday or not focused on the impact of bus timetables on work or school schedules and so on. However, I ask that people examine the plans that are in place. Many of the measures are to be welcomed but problems will be caused in certain areas and some people will have genuine concerns. I ask those with concerns or observations of a positive nature to contribute to the consultation process.
I wish all those with whom I have worked in the Seanad over the past couple of years, and particularly those on my panel, a very happy summer. I hope they will take plenty of rest, not work too hard and come back refreshed. We will see everybody in September, if not before.
I heartily concur.
If not before, is it?
If not before.
The past week was very significant for Northern Ireland and, in particular, the United Kingdom. That was not due to the visit of Donald Trump, by which we were hugely honoured, but, rather, the week of parades in Northern Ireland. I thank and pay tribute to the Minister of State for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, who attended a parade in Belfast, at which he was warmly welcomed and received. For him to represent Ireland at the event was a significant gesture on his behalf and that of the State. The great significance of the presence of the Tánaiste in Derry after the violence and trouble that erupted there must also be noted, as must the presence of Deputy Mary Lou McDonald in the city to try to deal with some of the issues and calm the situation. The most striking and important event of last week was the presence of the former captain of the Irish rugby team and the British and Irish Lions at a parade in Loughgall. A video featuring him playing a Lambeg drum later went viral on social media. That was a clear indication that such gestures, which many may consider tokenistic, make a difference. We must break down the barriers and get more people from the South to go North for parades week. It is a week of holidays and relaxation for both the nationalist and unionist communities. I left Leinster House last Thursday, 12 July, to drive through Belfast to Antrim for a radio interview. When I left Dublin that morning, the newspapers were filled with images of very violent scenes in Belfast and Londonderry, which was disappointing. However, all was peaceful as I drove through Northern Ireland. The roads were very quiet because it was a bank holiday. The temperature was good and the sun was shining. The reality North of the Border was completely different from the images of it portrayed globally. As a Northern Irish citizen, I find such coverage hugely disappointing.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Horkan on Brexit. I am deeply concerned by where the Brexit talks are going. The clock is ticking and the sands of time are running out but there are more questions than answers. I am very concerned that our fears are increasing rather than decreasing. It is important that a deal be struck. No deal for the North of Ireland is not an option. A deal must be struck and a resolution found for the many problems in that regard. It is a good time to reflect and consider that Brexit involves more problems than answers. Perhaps the decision to leave the European Union should be revisited.
In response to the points made by Senator Horkan, I wish to make clear that Sinn Féin is an abstentionist party. Its voters choose to elect abstentionist MPs and people in the North voted to reject Brexit. Both those mandates must be respected. I note the newfound concern of several Members of this House in regard to Westminster elections in the North. If they feel that strongly about it, they should put themselves before the people of the North and seek a mandate. The British Government must keep its political promise to give legal effect to the backstop in the North. That arrangement is absolutely necessary in the talks going ahead. It is a very concerning time for all involved. Senators should rest assured that Sinn Féin will continue to do everything it can to ensure that the rights of Irish citizens in the North are protected and that jobs and enterprises in this State are also protected.
I raise the issue of the failure of the Government to protect subcontractors, in particular in light of the Carillion collapse. It is obvious that the Government could have dealt with this matter under Article 71.3 of EU directive 2014/24/EU, which provides for subcontractors to be paid directly by the contracting authority. The Government was utterly negligent in failing to include that provision when the directive was transposed into Irish law. That failure, along with the lack of proper due diligence in the selection of the main contractor during the procurement process, means the Government cannot now ignore the plight of subcontractors left without payment for work carried out and equipment supplied to schools. More than 60 such businesses have been robbed of approximately €14 million in total. These businesses and hundreds of jobs across the country are at risk because those protections were not provided. Why did the Government not include the provision for subcontractors to be paid directly by the contracting authority when the directive was transposed? Was it not concerned about the risk to those businesses, which form the backbone of our economy, and the hundreds of job losses that may arise? Furthermore, the Government must formally hold KPMG, the auditor of Carillion, to account for assessing the company as financially suitable. The Carillion accounts were signed off and endorsed by KPMG, which has questions to answer. The Government must ensure those questions are answered.
We should not expect students and teachers to return to schools in September when payment has not been made for the school buildings or equipment. The Department of Education and Skills, the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, and the Government must ensure that payment is made for outstanding equipment and buildings and that the certification of works to meet building regulations involves those who carried out the work. There are many aspects to this issue. We should not put students, parents or teachers in the predicament of having to take advantage of businesses which were undermined by the lack of protection afforded by the Government.
I thank the Leader for setting out the schedule for today. Senators will have noted that it is particularly overloaded, with eight Bills to be dealt with today. I acknowledge that is not the fault of the Leader or the Seanad but it is bad legislative practice that a large amount of legislation must be dealt with in one day at the end of every summer term, while at other times of the year there is very little legislation with which to deal. We support the Leader in any representations he may wish to make to his party Whip or the Dáil Business Committee with regard to the timing of legislation coming before the Seanad.
I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on Brexit. I echo the concerns expressed by Senators about the effect of the votes in the House of Commons yesterday on the relatively positive step forward represented by the White Paper of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, which at least indicated a shift in British Tory policy from a hard to soft Brexit.
The votes yesterday, and the question they raised over whether a backstop remains in place in respect of the British Government's position, have resulted in British policy being as much of a fiasco as President Trump's performance at the Helsinki press conference yesterday. We see such a lack of clarity about what the British Government is seeking or will be mandated by Westminster to seek. I listened to Senator Conway-Walsh's comments but it is somewhat rich of Sinn Féin to say that it will do everything it possibly can to ensure the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland are protected when it will not take up its seats at Westminster. It would have a much better opportunity there to protect the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland and to have an input into the shape of Brexit, which is of such concern to us all. I ask the Leader for a debate on that early in the next term.
I wish all my colleagues well for the summer break but ask them to take the opportunity to call into the Seanad anteroom if they cannot come to the launch of the Vótáil 100 exhibition. It is opening on Thursday this week at 2 p.m. in the anteroom. It is entitled, Votes for Women: Suffrage and Citizenship, and it will be a great exhibition. We are going to have exhibits including the original banner used by the Irish Women's Franchise League, a lectern used by suffrage speakers bearing the words "Votes for Women" and medals awarded to Ms Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. The exhibition is being run in conjunction with the National Museum and the Sheehy Skeffington family. As Chair of the Vótáil 100 committee, I thank my colleagues on the committee for all their work. We are travelling to Westminster tomorrow as well to present a portrait of Ms Constance Markievicz to the Speaker of the House there, if the Parliament is still functioning tomorrow. That is an historic occasion.
It is on holidays.
We will see what happens this week with Westminster. It is historic. It is the first time that Ms Markievicz will have been formally recognised by the Houses of Parliament in Westminster as the first woman elected as a Member of Parliament in Britain. That is hugely significant and I welcome and look forward to that and the launch of the exhibition on Thursday.
I second and agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Ian Marshall with respect to all the events over the past few days in Northern Ireland. I refer to the positive events as well as those of a sadder nature, which, as Senator Marshall correctly said, do not reflect the full picture but are in themselves a difficulty that needs to be dealt with. I endorse his words in respect of Northern Ireland. He made the point succinctly and there is no merit in repetition.
I ask the Leader to ensure a debate early in the new term on an issue which I ask him to convey to the Minister for Health as a matter of urgency in the interim. We have a stated policy, correctly, across the health system that we treat people, in so far as is possible, in their own home. That is how it should be, that is where people in general want to be and it is where they should be. Not only is it efficacious in respect of their life and well-being but it is also an economically sound proposition. It is a much cheaper option than people being in nursing homes, etc.
There is a difficulty of which I want the Leader to be cognisant. There is a shortage of home helps to fill allotted home help hours throughout the country. We need to train more home helps. The HSE in many instances is using agency personnel to fill these gaps and the difficulty is that those personnel are passing through- they are not always available. We are going to have to make home help a career within the HSE so that people will work for a certain number of hours per week and are registered within the HSE. This has happened in the past with great effect but it is ceasing to happen.
We also need to encourage more people into the training system because there is a dearth of home helps to fill the necessary hours and in some instances a lack of hours allocated, which is also wrong. There is no point in platitudinously saying we believe in care within the home and we believe in a community health system unless we back it up with availability of home helps, an education course for them and a career structure that makes it attractive, particularly in this age of nearly full employment. It is a crucial question and I appeal to the Leader to ensure that it is dealt with immediately while we await a debate in September.
I would like to raise two or three issues, the first of which is healthcare. If we look back at this term, we have discussed healthcare more than anything else. I refer also to housing. Those are two critical issues. I have said repeatedly that this Government has achieved much. It will be judged, however, on the provision of healthcare and affordable housing - social, private purchase or whatever - for our people.
We need to build a better health service, one valued by all of our people, which provides safe and high quality healthcare and personal social services for the population of Ireland. Something we have to be mindful of is that no one particular group has a monopoly over the policy but we have to focus on and drill down into policy more. I know we have had the Minister in here on a number of occasions and I hope the Leader might address this when we come back after the summer.
I could not let this opportunity go on the our final day without mentioning the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH. I plead with all the Members to use whatever political contacts they have, in government or outside, and with their respective health spokespersons and parties to put pressure on the Government to reopen the remaining six beds. Staff at the hospital are in regular contact with my office about that. They are asking what is happening. I have contacted the Minister for Health on a number of occasions and I have contacted the Taoiseach's office directly twice in the past few weeks. Nothing seems to be happening. This is the NRH service. These patients are in hospitals right across the country holding up beds. There were 12 beds and we got six open in a slow process. I appeal to everyone to try to get these remaining six beds open.
I turn now to affordable housing. Today in The Irish Times, Mr. Fiach Kelly has an article on the front page which talks about the establishment by the Government - I think tomorrow - of a national regeneration and development agency, NRDA. One of the targets mentioned in the article is that this agency will be given the task, along with the requisite equipment and funding, of acquiring private lands. I am making an appeal to all people involved in politics. We know vast tracts of land are in State ownership in the docks areas, along the railway network and in all 31 local authority areas. There are thousands of acres and many of them are zoned for housing but perhaps not serviced, which is the issue. It would be wholly inappropriate and wrong to start using more taxpayers' money to acquire more private land for housing.
I ask the Leader if we could have a debate about the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, annual report which we all received about two weeks ago in the post. In the report NAMA tells us that it offered 6,984 residential units to the State and the local authorities. Only 2,717 attracted positive expressions of interest. We have to ask NAMA and the Government, in respect of its policy, why we have 7,000 residential units empty and supposedly available to address housing. Why have we, as the primary owners of NAMA, not brought those into play?
Finally, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the staff who serve the Seanad, the Leader and the Leader's office - and particularly Ms Orla Murray - for their support for all of us during this term. I wish everyone an enjoyable, restful summer recess.
I have raised this issue on several occasions in the past few weeks and probably months. It is about the unfortunate weather we have experienced in the past seven or eight weeks.
It is unfortunate if we look at the weather in respect of the farming community. It suffered greatly four and a half months ago when we had snow and a terrible winter before that. We are now looking at six and half weeks of drought. In my part of the world there is an issue with fodder and how the agriculture industry will survive the winter. A major debate is required on how farmers will finance the unfortunate major expenses they have. I also believe we have to look at the numbers of animals we have on farms.
Perhaps it is time we looked at reducing the dairy herd by 1% or 2% so we can keep enough fodder for winter.
There is a real issue regarding the mental health of farmers. Farmers are very much feeling the pain at the moment. I was at a show last Saturday and I was shocked by the view farmers had running into the winter. It is still only July. They were wishing their lives away. They were planning six months ahead and they did not know how they would survive. The pressure on the agricultural sector is a huge issue. We cannot wait until September to provide the care the farming community requires. The conversation on the mental health issue needs to start now. We need to move it forward.
I will mention another issue. I condemn the attack during the week on the former leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy Adams, in Northern Ireland. It has to be condemned by all sides of the House. Such actions are totally inappropriate. We need to note that when Senator Mulherin's office was firebombed by a member of the same party, Deputy Adams did not condemn it and did not want to go to meet the person who did it or the person who was firebombed. Deputy Adams cannot be crying out at this stage when one looks at what happened to my colleague who is sitting behind me.
I wish staff and all colleagues well for the summer. I thank the staff in particular and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and the Leader's office for their courtesy throughout the year.
I seek leave to introduce No. 21, the Charities (Human Rights) Bill 2018, before No. 1.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes, I should have said that. I will raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick again. I raised the issue six weeks ago and I highlighted the horrendous happenings to staff in the hospital. I asked the Minister to investigate. Regrettably, the Minister's investigation consisted of a letter asking the hospital if there was a problem. The hospital, funnily enough, wrote back saying no, there is nothing to see here. I was inundated by calls from doctors, nurses and support staff expressing their concerns and their relief that someone had raised the terrible issue of bullying and the anti-union, union-busting agenda in University Hospital Limerick. The shop steward I referred to, who has been forced out of work since April, still cannot return to work. He has done nothing wrong. Hospital management refuses to go to the Workplace Relations Commission on the matter. It is quite shocking for a public body such as University Hospital Limerick to adopt such an approach. He is horrified. My union, SIPTU, and I are very clear that there is an anti-union agenda by management and an attempt to break the union.
A second example came to me this week and I met the person concerned. I will not mention any names. The most horrific letter was received by this member of staff. I cannot repeat most of it because it is so graphic in detail. One line towards the end, written to this person who worked on a ward in the hospital, said "We all hate ye on this ward ye sad stupid headcases so we won’t tell ye again [to] get out ye are not wanted in this ward or anywhere". They go on to say, "f--- away each other and get out of here and go to hell". They attached a pornographic image to the letter. The person who received this letter still has not had a meeting with the human resources department. That was in February so it is five months later. This member of staff wrote to the Minister. I regret to say the Minister has not intervened.
There is much more to come from University Hospital Limerick. The Minister may regret his decision not to undertake a thorough investigation. I appeal to the Government to have a close look at what is happening. There is a horrendous culture of bullying, intimidation, an anti-union agenda, and it comes from the very top of management in University Hospital Limerick. I am asking the Leader for a debate as soon as we come back on this urgent issue.
I have highlighted the problem the environmental designation of land under the habitats directive and the birds directives is having west of the Shannon and particularly the fact it is shutting down development. If a person wants to dredge a river to stop flooding, build a road or bridge, put up a fence or widen a drain, he or she is blocked from doing so. With regard to roads and bridges, it is adding such delay and cost - I am talking about millions - that the existing situation is just not tenable. I ask that as well as having a general debate on the issue in the House as a priority in September, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under whose remit this falls, is asked that in the case of infrastructural development near special areas of conservation or special protection areas, where development has taken place in or about these designated lands, what surveys, investigation or studies have been done to establish the impact of development on designated sites and to what extent protected species, habitats and birds have re-established themselves on or near sites after a development has been carried out. I will give an example of a farmer outside Castlebar who developed a small wind farm on his lands. One of the turbines was objected to by the National Parks and Wildlife Service because of the presence of grouse. The man has since built it. There are turbines elsewhere. The grouse have established themselves at the base of the turbines.
We are constantly being told in Mayo we cannot proceed with the development of a bridge or road because of freshwater pearl mussel. There are Government schemes to support freshwater pearl mussel and all the other species and habitats. It seems to me there are more freshwater pearl mussel in the county of Mayo than there are wild mushrooms. As we move forward, if we are to make real progress and not assault the environment, we have to get the balance between wildlife and people. If not, we might as well turn Ireland west of the Shannon into a game reserve for people to come and have a look at us and see how we exist because we are going nowhere fast. As far as I am concerned, it is a priority. I know other colleagues feel similarly. It is something we should look at with fresh eyes come September.
We had a very passionate debate in 2017. The Leader was probably one of the most passionate people in the Chamber when we discussed local government boundaries. The Leader explained to the House exactly what happened in his constituency as a result. Rathmines is an urban village which used to have its own town council which met in Rathmines Hall. It has been divided in half by the Boundary Commission. It is one community split with a line drawn through it. It ignores that Rathmines is an urban village. I very much regret that.
I spent yesterday afternoon in Dublin Port. I was looking at the increased level of business related to exports, which is very welcome. They are well ahead of forecasts this year. They will be about 8% ahead of forecast. Brexit is a real problem coming up. We talk in the abstract. How will we handle 8 km of articulated lorries held in Dublin Port for up to three and four hours? At the weekend it was announced that the national oil reserves had to be moved out of the UK to be brought back to Ireland or stored in other European countries. There is talk of an additional 500 customs personnel being employed. It is quickly becoming a reality. Many party leaders, including my own party leader, Deputy Howlin, have spent an awful lot of time travelling to the UK to talk to our colleagues there and the SDLP in the North, and consulting our PES sister parties across Europe, trying to ensure we support the Minister's efforts on Brexit. It is important that all parties in the House play a role in ensuring that support.
Senator Bacik mentioned Countess Markievicz.
The portrait of Countess Markievicz is hung in Westminster but unfortunately we do not have a voice in Westminster to fight for the island of Ireland. I do not accept the idea that we are an abstentionist party because they abstain from government in Dublin-----
Who is they?
-----and will not take up their seats in Westminster.
The Labour Party has been abstaining from the North for years.
Now, where there is a clear danger to the Thirty-two Counties, our economic prospects and people's employment-----
The Labour Party is only in 26 of them.
-----to refuse to voice the concerns of the Thirty-two Counties of this country is a disgrace. This week, we will have a portrait of Countess Markievicz in Westminster-----
Who was she with?
-----but not a single voice fighting for these Thirty-two Counties.
I concur with Senator Ian Marshall about the media coverage of the incidents in Northern Ireland at the weekend and during last week. I have done business in the North since 1990 and I never found myself in a situation where I felt that I was in trouble. Any time I travelled overseas during the mid-1980s, I was always asked about the war going on in the North of Ireland. The media are seeking sensationalism. I agree with the speakers who have called for the Tánaiste to come into the Seanad as soon as possible when we come back in September to discuss the Brexit issue. There are fears, particularly in the agrifood sector, which is a major part of Kildare's industry, about the many exports going to the UK.
I ask that we have a debate on Seanad reform. I know there is almost a secret society with Senator McDowell that no one ever hears reports about. I have some historical facts. In 1920, the law was brought in to set up the Senate. It convened in 1921. In 1922, the Free State set up its own Seanad and many who were already Senators in 1920 and 1921 were part of that. Those are a few milestones. I hope that we will have some Seanad reform. As a new Senator, I thank the staff in the Seanad Office for all the help and assistance that they have given me since I was elected, and I wish my colleagues a happy holiday. Enjoy it and be back for the turmoil, excitement and debate that takes place in this austere House in September.
The Senator is wishing that on us. I thank the Senator.
The cost of living continues to increase. From this time last year, the prices of daily produce, such as bread, butter, fish and foodstuffs generally, have increased in price according to the latest consumer price index. The price of electricity has gone up by 9.2% from this time last year. One of the biggest increases was in the price of home heating oil. It is up a staggering 29.4% compared to June last year. In practical terms, that means that someone purchasing 1,000 l of home heating oil this time last year would have spent €550 and it would cost €712 today for the same 1,000 l. That is continuing to increase. I raise that because, with the Government now in negotiations on the budget, the social welfare payments and fuel allowance have to reflect the price that consumers find here. Many people are struggling to survive.
The farming sector is facing what it calls the perfect storm this year. We have had a very poor spring, a shortage of fodder as we speak, and a continuing drought. The Government set up a task force earlier in the year to look at the fodder crisis. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine re-establish that task force because I have serious concerns that the farming sector is going to face the biggest crisis it has ever experienced. The Government needs to get a grip on it. Do not leave it too late. It is time to re-establish that task force and consult with the farming organisations so that a proper plan can be put in place to address the serious problems that face us down the road.
This week is farm safety week. I offer my sympathies to the family of the farmer who died in Galway yesterday. Some 24 farmers died last year in farm accidents. My colleague, Senator Conway, put a fine document about farm safety together in the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. We need to keep it to the forefront of our minds.
I will be positive today. WP Engine is bringing jobs to Limerick. It is having a recruitment day in Flannery's Bar in Limerick today and Slattery's Bar in Dublin on 19 July. Those are all high-end jobs. I encourage people who are interested in recruitment in the mid-west to visit these jobs fairs because quite a number of jobs are on offer. On a positive note, last weekend was very good for sport in Limerick. Ciara Neville and her team mates won a silver in the World U20 Championships in Athletics. Niall Herlihy came first in the Irish Rowing Championships. He came from Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh, where I am chairperson of the board of management. I wish him all the best. Castleconnell Boat Club won three pots, five silver medals and three bronze medals in championship rowing, and eight gold medals in non-championship rowing. The hurlers beat Kilkenny last weekend and go on to the semi-final at the end of July, against Cork. I know the Leader is from Cork and I am sure we will meet on the day in Croke Park. Sport is a positive thing to be involved in, with the friendships and camaraderie that people have through sport, particularly team sports.
I second Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business. I wish the politicians in this Chamber would stop sitting on the fence with regard to the Six Counties.
It is perhaps not a lack of intelligence, although sometimes I doubt that. It is certainly for political point scoring and sound bites. Senators should open their ears, go to the North, listen to what people want and not sit here on their cosy fence and decide what they will try to attack Sinn Féin with. Give it over. It is a record that needs to stop.
They are regional parties.
I would like to reflect on the year before we break up today. Let us be grateful and thankful to the people of Ireland for the referendum on the eighth amendment. Mná na hÉireann have more autonomy over our bodies and choices. Well done to Senator Black and all of us on voting for the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 last week.
Unfortunately, there are negatives which have been stark and shocking. The first and foremost for me was the CervicalCheck scandal. Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who is now gravely and seriously ill, is asking for laboratories and cytologists to make free their time. She is spending the money that was awarded to her, when she is gravely ill, to try to help the women of Ireland. As she said, we need to do it so the scandal of the 3,000 not yet read or audited will never happen.
Last year, on 20 July, I stood in this Chamber before recess and talked about Linn Dara. I said I would keep talking about it until something happened. Something happened in October. The 11 beds that were closed in the Linn Dara inpatient unit were opened. That was about time. Unfortunately, the day programme is now closed, with the same tactics and ideas of just shutting down vital services for the children of this country, for their well-being and their mental health. When do we ever learn? I thank the HSE staff and those working in chaotic conditions. We need their shoulder to the wheel. Please stick with the HSE until we revolutionise it.
I thank the staff of this House for the smooth management, their absolute understanding and putting us right when we go wrong. I guess they are glad to see the back of us for a while.
I agree with Senator Marshall. The presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, at the Orange march in Belfast was hugely significant. It follows on from the presence of Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, at the Ulster final in Clones and the visits of many royal couples to Ireland. There is a new stage in our evolution. I certainly will not take a lecture from anyone from Dublin about my feelings on Northern Ireland. I come from middle Ireland and the party of Garret FitzGerald, which introduced the Anglo-Irish Agreement and which supports the Good Friday Agreement. There are two sides to every story on the island of Ireland and in the UK. We must work much more closely with our neighbours on all sides to ensure we get peace and a better country.
I did not say that to Senator Feighan. I just said to stop the broken record.
The pot is calling the kettle black.
What is happening in the UK is very concerning. Today, the electoral commission has fined the Vote Leave campaign £61,000 and referred it to the police for breaking electoral law. This is as a result of the Brexit referendum. What is happening in the House of Commons is very worrying. The UK has to abide by its joint report commitments, that is, the backstop. Negotiations cannot progress and there can be no transition or withdrawal agreement otherwise. The Good Friday Agreement has to be agreed in all its parts. Our fate is now being decided by people in the United Kingdom who have no interest in either Ireland or the Good Friday Agreement. That is a matter of some concern. We must unite to ensure that our interests are protected. They are not thinking about the United Kingdom but about uniting the Tory Party, which is very damaging. I know it is a UK decision but we must have a second referendum. We are going in a certain direction that is going to be damaging for the island of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU. It is up to the British people but a referendum is needed after all the shenanigans that have happened in the past few days.
Last week, on 11 July, the country was amazed to discover a wealth of historic sites surrounding Newgrange in Brú na Bóinne. On that same day, Providence Resources completed its dangerous seismic survey of the Newgrange Prospect off the south-west coast of Ireland. That area, with its many blue whales, fin whales, dolphins, coral reefs, mackerel, tuna and many other fish species, has been subjected to seismic testing at least three times in the past few years without a single environmental impact assessment or stage 2 appropriate assessment. These tests took place in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and now again in 2018. No cumulative assessment of the damage has ever been conducted.
This time last year, the Government granted permissions to drill for oil off the south-west coast in the ecologically sensitive suite of the Porcupine Basin just as the Dáil closed for the summer recess. Once again as per usual, oil companies exploited the lack of democratic accountability for their own gain. The new archaeological discovery at Brú na Bóinne was due to the most extreme heatwave Ireland has experienced since 1976. It was a happy accident in an uneasy period of beautiful sunshine but severe drought, just one more addition to the freak weather events that have become a regular occurrence in recent years. I want the relevant Minister to give a commitment to this House that no drilling will happen off the Irish coast this summer. I want him to pay heed to the passing of our motion for marine protected areas and state that he will not be held in thrall by lobbyists throwing every penny of PR money that they can at the Department, securing nothing for the Irish State but the destruction of our environment and our children's future.
I join colleagues in thanking Martin Groves and the staff of the Seanad office for all the assistance they have given us in recent months.
Budget time is approaching. There is going to be a lot of discussion of Estimates in the coming months and the Government will be trying to frame a budget that will keep our economic prosperity on track. There is one issue about which we need to have a fundamental conversation, namely, VAT. As we know, the 9% VAT rate is very good for tourism and I sincerely hope it continues. I would like a 9% rate to be introduced in other areas in order to stimulate other parts of the economy.
I would also like to see the Government examine the threshold at which a self-employed individual has to register for VAT. At the moment, a self-employed plumber, carpenter or other person providing services has to register for VAT if their turnover is €37,500 or more. This needs to be revised upwards. The figure of €37,500 is around €600 a week. I think it is unreasonable and unfair. It creates considerable red tape and also encourages people to operate in the black market. They do so to keep their figure down and avoid incurring the various costs associated with having to register for VAT. In a modern, developing and growing economy, we should increase the threshold to €50,000. Even at that, it is not a significant jump. It would help people regularise their affairs, reduce red tape and certainly would encourage people not to operate 20% or 30% of their business on a cash basis in the black market. People might be of the view that it is not of pressing importance but given that we are trying to encourage craftsmen and tradesmen to come back from abroad and set up businesses here, we need to put a suite of incentives in place. I am calling on the Minister for Finance to seriously consider this over the coming months. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister expressing this view, which has been articulated on the Order of Business in the Seanad.
I wish my colleagues a very pleasant summer break. To those who are watching and listening to our deliberations, I encourage them to swim in designated areas where there are lifeguards and to be careful because we do not want any tragedies over the summer. We have had too many of them. I thank colleagues for their courtesy and support.
I must apologise to Senator Alice-Mary Higgins. I did not see her indicate earlier. Senator Grace O'Sullivan beside her immediately indicated when she entered the Chamber. Senator Higgins was sitting on the other side of Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
I was perhaps very subtle in my indication but it was there nonetheless.
I apologise, I missed it.
This week, Ireland will be one of over 40 countries at the UN presenting voluntary national reviews of their progress towards achieving the 17 sustainable development goals. It is good that Ireland is doing so. We played a key role in the negotiation of the sustainable development goals and have a key responsibility to show leadership and ownership in driving forward the integration of those goals into national and international strategies and policies. Unfortunately, however, the indications are that Ireland is not doing as well as it should be. It is important to acknowledge this in order that we might more forward. Social Justice Ireland has highlighted that Ireland is falling short on its ambition in terms of many of the social justice goals including measures on equality, labour rights protection and others. Climate Action Network Europe has highlighted that Ireland is dragging close to the bottom of the league in terms of delivering on its climate change and other commitments.
If we have sustainable development goals, we must translate them into action. I was concerned to hear my colleague, Senator Mulherin, express concern about the dredging of rivers and the burden of the birds directive. The flooding we have experienced has been linked in many cases to the lack of proper environmental protection assessments before irresponsible building was allowed to take place in previous eras. The way in which that building was done contributed to environmental damage. Senator Mulherin talked about measuring the return of species after development but in this House the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht refused to introduce baseline research. She refused to accept amendments to the terrible and destructive Heritage Bill 2016, which would have provided for a baseline to know where our environment was before development and to provide a context for the decisions we make. As Senator Grace O'Sullivan pointed out, it is concerning that the seismic activities taking place off our shores were happening without environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment.
We have had good moments across the Houses, including Deputy Pringle's Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill. which I look forward to sponsoring and supporting with many others when it comes to the House in the autumn. We also had the anti-fracking Bill. These are good moments and we need to follow through on them. We have not called for an amendment to the Order of Business because we know it may not happen today. However, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to provide the House with assurances that over the summer drilling will not commence off the south-west coast. Sustainable development is not a burden. It is a matter of rebalancing and thinking differently and in a more joined-up fashion. There have been some most positive initiatives such as the greenway and cycleway in Mayo, the Food on the Edge festival in Galway, the wonderful Cuan Beo Festival, which seeks to link sustainable communities with sustainable environments, and the Cruinniú na mBád festival this August. They are examples of communities seeking to live and grow sustainably, which is our future if we are to have one for small towns and communities around Ireland that is in tune with our environment. Let us not look at environmental assessments and the birds directive as a burden; let us look at them as an opportunity to rethink and to do things better. I wish Members a happy summer. I hope they will get to some of the wonderful small festivals which are taking place in so many communities throughout the country.
I thank the staff of the House for all the work they have done with us over the past term. I agree with Sinn Féin that there is no doubt that they will be glad to see the back of us for a couple of months.
My second point is more technical. Typically, the Seanad finishes a week after the Dáil. It might be worthwhile to see if there is any way they can be coterminous in their interaction on Bills. We have a large number of Bills coming through at the very end, which is typical of any session. However, we might consider whether there is a way in future to make changes so that things happen in an easier way than is typical at the end of term.
I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader and colleagues here a restful break albeit I am sure that, in keeping with the story of politicians' lives, a great deal of work will be done during the coming months. I hope we come back to a session in which there is respect for conscience voting. I want to see less of the brutal imposition of the party Whip on issues. I hope also that we will scrutinise proposals thoroughly and properly and not just jump on bandwagons as happens here from time to time.
A good example of what I mean was the original proposal for a straightforward deletion of Article 41.2, the clause of the Constitution referring to women's work in the home and their not being obliged by economic necessity to work outside the home. At the Constitutional Convention, 90% of participants voted against an outright deletion and to replace it with something gender neutral. Initially, the Government floated the idea that it would delete the provision simpliciter and the Taoiseach engaged in all sorts of spin-doctored references to how sexist and patriarchal it all was. However, that was without a more considered reflection on what the provision was supposed to be about in the first place. It was included in the Constitution at a time of considerably more poverty than exists in the country now and when there was a real social good in at least aspiring to the idea that mothers in the home would not be forced to work outside it.
The first issue we need to consider is how the provision received nothing but lipservice over the years. We saw with the tax individualisation measure some years ago how little value successive Governments have placed on the care being provided by parents in the home. While I am glad the Government has pulled back and there will be further consideration of what needs to be done, I ask why there was major flag-flying about straight deletion without any consideration here, as opposed to within the Constitutional Convention, of what should be included in the Constitution. There is a great deal more we need to do to value the parenting taking place in the home, whether by fathers or mothers. I hope we will have a more reflective politics on foot of the announcement of a different way of proceeding on that issue.
I intend to table an amendment to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill later. Committee and Remaining Stages are scheduled and I intend to raise a matter on Committee Stage at the very least which may well be the subject of an amendment on Report Stage. Can the Leader reassure me that there will be no obstacle to my tabling of such an amendment if I can find support for it? I understand from the officials in the House that it will not be possible.
That is not my decision.
Another thing I thought we had moved away from was the language and culture of guillotining.
I hope anyone seeking to propose amendments on Committee Stage would-----
On a point of information, the Senator is being mischievously disingenuous.
No. Amendments are not a matter for the Leader.
The Senator is part of a group that agrees the Order of Business every week.
Amendments are ruled in or out of order in the normal course and it is not a matter for the Leader.
As I said, I hope that, whatever is agreed by groups on the Order of Business, legislators who wish to table amendments between Stages will always be facilitated. To allow otherwise sends a very bad message.
That has not been the case.
We have quite a lot of legislation coming at the tail end of the session as, sadly, happens to often.
I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to clarify the record. The Senator is misleading the House deliberately and he knows he is.
He is finished.
I asked a question. Will I be facilitated?
Order. There is one other speaker, Senator Ó Ríordáin.
Senator Mullen should read his emails.
I will be brief. At the end of the political term, it is important to reflect on where we are and where we are going. As others have done, I wish everyone across the Chamber a rest over the summer months, most importantly the staff who have facilitated us every day we are here. Democracy is very important. Any of us watching television last night, whether it was the Brexit debate in Britain or what happened in Helsinki between Trump and Putin, will have realised that democracy is very fragile. In these Houses at least, we should always say to ourselves that, whatever arguments we may have, left and right, we have an opportunity here to do a great deal of good when we work together. We should never underestimate the importance of that.
Democracy is not something we can take for granted and we should never be complacent about it. We should never assume we will always have it in Ireland and we must work every day to ensure people believe in it and in our democratic institutions. People should believe their Parliament, local authorities and politicians work for them. When we see what is happening across Europe, the United States and Britain, we should be proud of what we are achieving in this Oireachtas. Our country is wounded and we are coming out of a very difficult time. While we have made improvements and can, hopefully, look to the future, my brief experience here since 2011 suggests that politics works best when we work together. There have been great examples of that from every party and Independent in the Houses. I hope everyone enjoys their rest and I look forward to working with and, indeed, against certain people when we come back in September.
I thank the 21 Members who spoke on the Order of Business for their contributions and begin by addressing the joint issues of Brexit and the North of our country.
In response to Senators Horkan, Marshall, Conway-Walsh, Bacik, Humphreys, Lawlor, Devine and Feighan, Brexit is of absolute importance to us on an all-island basis. I agree with Senator Feighan and I hope that the UK will reconsider and hold a second referendum if they have time. Government continues to take an all-Ireland approach to Brexit. I agree with Senator Feighan that the fines imposed on two organisations campaigning for the UK to leave are highly significant. As Senator Ó Ríordáin said ní neart go cur le chéile - we do well when we come together. It is important to recognise that, as Senator Conway-Walsh said, the issue of the backstop has not gone away.
Tomorrow the Tánaiste will bring a position paper to Cabinet. The Government is on high alert over Brexit. A huge amount of work has taken place across Government and Government agencies. A range of Government supports have been put in place, including the Brexit loan scheme, the low-cost loan scheme for agribusiness and additional funding to State agencies. Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland have introduced the Start to Plan voucher. The Government has been very proactive in putting in place a platform to get its information across to Irish citizens, business and representative bodies, along with building alliances across Europe and putting in place structures to carry out work that is necessary in our preparedness for Brexit. The Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and the Taoiseach are fully committed to ensuring we have the best outcome for Ireland in our Brexit negotiations.
It is important to recognise that it is about all parts of our island. I note that my friends from Sinn Féin seem to get very alarmed when Members of this House speak on matters of the North and matters of Brexit. It is our entitlement to speak. We are legislators and Members of the Oireachtas. I fully agree with Senator Feighan, as a member of the Fine Gael Party which put forward the Anglo-Irish Agreement and which upholds the Good Friday Agreement. It is important to recognise that Sinn Féin had an abstentionist policy in these Houses of the Oireachtas and it revisited that. I say to the Sinn Féin Members present today that they should not take it as a personal criticism; they should take it as a criticism that we now have no voice representing nationalists or moderate unionists in the House of Commons.
Members of Sinn Féin have taken their seats in the European Parliament and have taken their seats here. They could play a constructive role in Westminster. I say that not beating a stick or waving a flag at them, but as one who wants to see an all-Ireland voice heard.
Why does Fine Gael not end its own policy of abstentionism? We are inviting it to become an all-Ireland party.
Fine Gael is an all-Ireland party.
It is not organised in the North.
It is important that we all wear the green jersey and take away our partitionist or narrow focus, if that is the case.
I join Senator Marshall in commending the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, on his attendance at last week's parade. Gestures matter. Symbols and symbolism form one part of the debate. The gesture made by Brian O'Driscoll and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is about building bridges, reconciliation and creating a new Ireland where all of us are equal and welcome and where all traditions are recognised. I agree with Senator Marshall that it was disappointing that the minority got the coverage as opposed to the majority who were having a peaceful day. I also condemn the attacks on any member of society, Deputy Adams or anybody else. They have no place in a modern, civilised society.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of Irish Water and the night-time economy. He makes a very good point. I know Irish Water has been communicating and engaging with people on the issue of water. I hope a sensible approach will be taken for the hospitality sector, which at this peak time requires certain amounts of water usage. The Senator made reference to the health system and those over 75. He will have noticed that there are 13% fewer people on trolleys than this time last year. While we have a significant journey to take, it is important to recognise that we are investing more in our health system than ever before.
I join Senator Horkan in commending Hertz on its pursuit of people making fraudulent claims. Such claims increase insurance premiums for many people. It is important that we call them out and the Senator's points are very valid. His points about the summertime consultation on BusConnects are valid. I hope people will engage, not least because we now have social media and mobile devices. People sitting by a swimming pool can still engage and I hope they will. It is an important consultation.
I believe I have addressed Senator Marshall's comments. I commend him on his contribution on the Order of Business today.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the very important issue of the Carillion subcontractors working on school building projects. It is a huge source of concern. Subcontractors need to be protected. In many cases small family businesses have not been paid significant amounts of money, which is unacceptable. As Members know, the Department is not in a legal contract with the subcontractors, whose contracts are with Carillion and Sammon, which have both gone into liquidation. There is ongoing negotiation and I hope the court-appointed liquidator can bring a resolution. I agree with the Senator that the role of subcontractors and their relationship with the main contractor need further examination. I do not think she is correct in saying the Government is negligent in that regard. It is important to recognise that Carillion was paid and it paid Sammon for that bundle of schools.
Senators Bacik and Kieran O'Donnell spoke about the scheduling of the House. We have often sought and have achieved getting legislation commenced in this House. Of course, the Seanad almost always rises after the Dáil. Senator O'Donnell's points are worth pursuing.
I join Senator Bacik in wishing her and our other colleagues from this House, Senators Conway-Walsh, McFadden and Higgins, every good wish as they travel to Westminster. I thank them for their wonderful work on Vótáil 100. It is great that tomorrow Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas will travel to Westminster, a sign of a new relationship that recognises the importance of what was commenced with Vótáil 100. I hope the exhibition will also be a success.
Senator O'Reilly also spoke about the events in the North and the parades. He also made a very pertinent point about home help hours, a point many Senators have made in the House in recent weeks. There seems to be a clogging up of the system in regard to home help hours. As Senator O'Reilly said, it has become a career structure and a very positive one in our health system. We all want people to live longer and stay longer in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. I would be happy for the Minister of State to come to the House to have that debate in the new term.
Senator Boyhan spoke about healthcare and housing. I understand details of the proposed national regeneration and development agency will be announced tomorrow. Representatives of NAMA have appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. The Senator made an interesting point about residential units being left idle, something we should all pursue as a matter of urgency. I join him in hoping that we will see a resolution of the impasse over the reopening of beds in the National Rehabilitation Hospital.
Senators Lombard and Gallagher spoke about the impact of the weather on the farming community because of the drought and now the impending fodder difficulties farmers will encounter in the autumn and winter.
Senator Lombard is right when he speaks about the number of animals on our farms. He also makes an interesting point about the mental health of farmers, which has been affected by these events. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, is acutely aware of that issue. Senator Gallagher should note that the Minister has reconvened the subcommittee in the Department. I think it is important to recognise that there is a need for the Government to be vigilant on this issue. We will see a change in the weather in the autumn and I hope farmers will be looked after in that regard.
I will be happy to accept Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business. The Senator raised an issue regarding University Hospital Limerick, which he has raised previously in the House. I am sure the Minister's investigation amounts to much more than a courtesy letter to the hospital. As Senator Gavan knows well, the role of unions is protected and enshrined in legislation. I would certainly be surprised and shocked if any hospital CEO tried to eliminate unions from a hospital group.
It is happening.
It would not and cannot happen and no right-minded person in management or public representative would countenance it. I do not believe it is taking place. I am not familiar with day-to-day matters at the hospital but, as I have stated previously, we need trade unions to be the voice and representative of workers, in this case in our hospitals. I stand four-square behind any worker's right to join and be part of a union and to have the union act as his or her active voice and representative.
Senator Mulherin raised the habitats directive and its implications for development. I remind the Senator that the Government yesterday launched a rural regeneration and development fund, which will see €4 billion put in place. That is alongside €50 million in Leader funding and €240 million under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund operational programme. It is important to increase population growth outside Dublin.
People cannot get planning permission.
I was going to say that the points the Senator made on the need for continued development in rural Ireland are very valid. A balance must be struck. Senator Higgins commented on sustainable development and certain other issues. We must strike a balance, but I think the point Senator Mulherin makes is that we must be open to the development of rural Ireland, and the Government is open to such development.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of local government boundaries and cited the example of Rathmines and the division of the urban village. There are parts of where I am from in Cork, for example, in Grange, where boundaries go through housing estates. A new local election boundary literally goes through a house in the area. This poses a question that I have repeatedly asked as to how these lines on maps are drawn. Do members of these independent boundary commissions not recognise that this must be about not dividing communities and allowing for a community voice to be heard?
Partition has been brought to a new level if boundaries are going through houses.
The boundary is going right through a house. I am not quite sure what happens if one lives on the left-hand side of the house, but if one follows the map-----
In that case, marital strife could determine which constituency one votes in.
It could, but Senator Mullen would not be in favour of marital strife.
I hope Senator Buttimer is not either.
Anything but; I am very happily married. I hope the house in question will be part of one electoral division. However, this case prove the point that those who sit on independent boundary commissions are not always right. We should not be afraid to hold them to account but we cannot do so. This issue, which Senator Humphreys was right to raise, is a bugbear of mine.
I join Senator Humphreys in commending Dublin Port on its growth. I recognise that it was the Taoiseach who, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, implemented a new ports policy that set a new course for our ports. I am glad Senator Humphreys is joining me on that.
Senator Lawlor raised the issue of Seanad reform. I would be a little premature to have a debate on Seanad reform because we are charting waters that have not been navigated. I am sure the chairman of the Seanad reform committee, Senator McDowell, will be happy to report in due course. I remind members of that committee that the Clerk of the Seanad, Mr. Martin Groves, set out most important information in his position paper to the Seanad reform committee.
I would love for that correspondence to be circulated to committee members in the recess for light reading. It certainly will be plenty of food for thought.
The Leader might arrange that.
Yes, I could do so.
If members of the committee perused the Manning report and its recommendations while they were at it, that would also be useful.
Mr. Groves's paper will do me.
I am not being jocular. I make this point quite seriously. Mr. Groves's paper for the Seanad reform committee is a very fine paper, one that deserves reading and investigation.
So I believe and I look forward to reading it.
I do not want to embarrass the Clerk of the Seanad.
No insult was intended by referring to it as "light reading", I am sure. It is very substantial reading.
It is detailed research that merits further reading.
Senator Gallagher raised the price of home heating oil. I am glad he did not blame the Government for the price, because it does not set it. The price is beyond our control. It is a source of worry that crude oil prices have increased, and one of which we have to be cognisant.
Senator Byrne rased the issue of farm safety week, which is an important week. I commend our colleague, Senator Martin Conway, on his work on farm safety in the previous Seanad and appeal to all those who work on or visit farms to take heed of the need to be safe. I pay tribute to and sympathise with the families of those who have died through farm accidents. Injury or death on a farm is a horrific experience and I would not wish it on anybody. I hope we can see a further reduction in fatalities, injuries and accidents. We need to continue to increase awareness and to have an action plan, as we did with road traffic. I commend the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, on the work he is doing on this issue.
I welcome the employment created by WP Engine.
I am reluctant to get involved in the forthcoming semi-final between Cork and Limerick, other than to wish both teams well. Obviously, I will wear the red and white of Cork.
A repeat of 1980 would be good.
We will see.
The outcome of 1980 would be good, yes.
We are looking for the 1973 result.
Senator Mullen loves the 1980s.
Members have become very interested in dates.
Senator Ó Ríordáin does not know what I am talking about at all though. He is too urban-centred. He will put on a Dublin jersey when there is a match on, but other than that-----
A hurley, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. It is called a hurley.
I am glad Members are all in good form.
Senator Devine made reference to a number of issues, in particular the CervicalCheck scandal. All of us are cognisant of the fact that there are people who are suffering. The Scally inquiry has been established and it is important it gets to the truth. We can never allow this to happen again. It is not about obfuscation or passing the buck but about ensuring we get the full truth for all of the people involved.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan referenced the issue of the Newgrange prospect. I welcome the new historical finds. I know Providence Resources has issued a request around frontier exploration licence, FEL, 6/14. That is a matter for the Minister. He will make that decision and I will be happy to convey to him the comments of some Senators.
Senator Conway raised the issue of value added tax, VAT, and the threshold for the self-employed. That is part of the pre-budget submission of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, IPSE. I join the Senator in hoping the current VAT rate for the hospitality sector is retained. I know there is a debate on the cost of hotel rooms but I genuinely believe the introduction of the lower VAT rate has been of benefit to the whole hospitality industry. I go back to the argument I always make in the House, namely, that people should tell those who use the hairdresser every week or two weeks and the hairdresser who employs staff that we will increase the VAT rate.
We are not saying that. We are calling specifically for the VAT subsidy for hotel rooms to be removed. We should all agree on that.
All I am saying is that those making this argument should tell those people that. It is not just about the hotel rooms.
We are not calling for it to be removed from them.
I am sorry, we cannot debate it now.
Senator Gavan cannot have it both ways. I know Sinn Féin want it both ways.
We are very clear. We should remove the VAT subsidy from the hotel rooms. Does Senator Buttimer not agree with us?
We can have that debate separately.
It is important to be cognisant that the lower VAT rate helped create jobs and acted as a catalyst for boosting the economy.
What we need to do now is ensure that we continue with the creation of employment. We are near full employment, which involved a significant journey from where we were in 2011. I acknowledge Senator Gavan's point on hotel room prices. I have always said in this House hotel room prices have gone astronomically high, in particular, in the city of Dublin. However, one must bear in mind that the VAT rate applies not only to Dublin. It applies to all other parts of the country where there is not the same increase in hotel prices and where there is not the same occupancy rate. If one talks to hoteliers - I refer not to the big shots but the ordinary man or woman who is struggling - they will tell one not to touch it.
Of course, they would.
Order, the Leader without interruption.
I am talking about the person who is not operating in Dublin.
Senator Higgins made a strong contribution on sustainable development and the presentation in the UN. I would be happy to have that debate in the new term, and I welcome that. Senator Kieran O'Donnell also made reference to the legislative schedule.
I must go to my phone to get the reply for Senator Mullen in terms of the Report Stage amendments. First, the Leader has no role to play in the setting of amendments. The business of the House is agreed by the House. Second, the time limit is determined by the Bills Office. If the House wishes, it can amend the Order of Business. However, it has been agreed by all groups at the group meeting last week the scheduling for today.
Never mind scheduling, it is the facilitation of amendments. I am happy to have it clarified in response.
We will not debate it now.
I would also make the point - I am open to clarification on this - that the Bills Office emails Senators around deadlines for amendments.
That is correct.
I do not do that. I would remind Senator Mullen on the issue of conscience voting that in the last issue of conscience there was a free vote by the majority of parties in the House.
I would like to see that continue.
I agree fully with Senator Mullen that there should be no continuing to pander to people to play to constituencies, to play to spin doctors and to play to particular audiences. We should come in here as legislators and be able to legislate for the common good rather than looking at the currency that is called "votes". It is important to recognise that.
Senator Mullen can talk to the Cathaoirleach and to the Clerk of the Seanad regarding to the amendments. That is beyond my grace. If the Senator checks his email, there was an email sent regarding deadlines and timetables.
Finally, I agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin in the context of the events of the past week, in terms of Europe and in terms of the ability of us to work together. The events in Helsinki yesterday beggar belief. Where the President of America would be so subservient to President Putin, it frightens me. From talking to many people around the world this morning-----
I think there is a video tape that they might have.
I certainly hope not.
It would not be good viewing.
I believe there is a need for parliamentarians, parliaments and governments around the world to stand for the principles of democracy. I never thought I would see the day where the President of America would take the word of the Kremlin over the word of his own CIA. It is extraordinary.
Finally, more fhocal scoir, I thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and the Cathaoirleach for your courtesy and professionalism. I thank Bridget and Martin and all the staff in the Seanad. I pay tribute to the ushers who come in here every day to look after us, the catering staff, the cleaning staff, the staff in the Bills Office for their patience, courtesy and good humour, and in particular, the men and women who record us here - the sound people - and the stenographers who take down, and sometimes make up, prose much better than it is. They do tremendous work. They work anti-social hours. I also pay tribute to the two men who look after us in the voting. They are tremendous people.
The Houses of the Oireachtas is the sum of the parts of all of us. In my case, I thank Orla in my office for her courtesy. Indeed, I thank the Government Chief Whip and the Fianna Fáil Chief Whip for their co-operation, but also the leaders other parties for their good humour, flexibility, co-operation and graciousness. They come with particular viewpoints but we iron them out sometimes. We might have difficulty sometimes but, in fairness, we all come with the common objective to pursue the work of this House of the Oireachtas on behalf of the people. We are on the edge of a summer break. I thank also the staff of all Members of the House and the secretaries of all the Members of the House for their co-operation.
We have had a very busy time, despite what some in the media will say. It has been a productive term, not least the fact that we have had nearly 26 hours' debate on the Judicial Appointments Committee Bill 2017. In saying that, today is an lá deireanach. I wish everybody in the House, both staff and Members, a happy laethanta saoire an tsamhraidh. I hope the Members have a refreshing and a good time and come back in the autumn for an equally busy time. Stay safe, enjoy the summer and bain taitneamh as.
I join with the Leader and, indeed, all of the Members in thanking everybody for all the help and co-operation. I thank Martin, Bridget, all of the staff of the House and everybody who assists here. I wish all of the Members a happy and restful summer. Hopefully, everybody will come back suitably refreshed in September and looking forward to the fray and whatever will be before us.
The Government, as the House will be aware, will be in Kerry tomorrow - some of them may be there today - at the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell. No doubt some of them will be wise enough to take a suitable break, at least for a few days, in the kingdom.
That is something I would heartily recommend to the Members.
Is it Muckross House?
Indeed, the Senators all could do with a break down there and all of them have my number. If the Senators want to see some places they did not know existed and that they never saw before in the kingdom, I will show them.
No secret recordings.
Senator Gavan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 21 be taken before No. 1." The Leader indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment.