The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on Project 2040 and transport matters, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018 - all Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes each and to all other Senators not to exceed four minutes each, the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; and No. 3, motion re statement for the information of voters on the Thirty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution (Repeal of offence of publication or utterance of blasphemous matter) Bill 2018, to be discussed in conjunction with the debate on Second Stage but not to be taken until Report and Final Stages of the Bill have concluded. It will be taken without debate.
Order of Business
I thank the Leader for outlining the business of the day. I ask him for an urgent debate on the Scally report and bring it forward as soon as possible, hopefully next week. While I could propose an amendment to the Order of Business, I am unsure whether that is relevant to next week, as we are talking about the Order of Business today. I wish to propose that Members debate the report with the upmost urgency.
Is Senator Horkan proposing an amendment to the Order of Business? I am unsure.
I can propose an amendment to the Order of Business if that brings about a review more quickly. It may not be possible today. Ideally, I would propose an amendment to the Order of Business today, but if it was not possible to do so, that it be done as soon as possible.
The Senator is threatening that if it is not brought in next week, he might do that next week.
I am trying to indicate to the Leader that I am always flexible and willing to help in delivery but I seek a debate on the matter as soon as possible. If the Leader is not forthcoming, I expect he probably will be, we may have to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. It is proposed for now and I will await the Leader's response.
Brexit is getting closer and closer. It is now two years and three months since the referendum vote; we are six months away from the final deal. Theresa May still says she does not want to delay it. There is no more talk of transition. The issue becomes more critical by the hour. Yesterday, there was what has been termed an informal summit and there will be a lunch of the EU 27 without the UK today. With every day that passes, it seems there is another complication. A new commentary has come out from the airport authorities discussing the catastrophe that will befall the aviation sector among the EU 27 and the UK if a deal on aviation-related security and the treatment of passengers between the EU 27 and the UK is not arrived at. This is of particular interest to us as we often use the UK as a transit point en route to other cities. I did so myself this week. It is important that we have a deal on Brexit. The language from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste is far more pessimistic than it was, although to be fair, it is probably more pragmatic and realistic. I ask the Leader to bring in the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade as soon as possible to update the House on where we are going. We see it in the newspapers but it is important that we have a debate here where we can discuss it and tease out the issues. The Border seems to continue to be a very challenging issue in terms of whether it is a land border, sea border or there being no border or whether Northern Ireland is in or out of some sort of special regulatory arrangement. We need regulatory alignment in respect of our food sector, among other areas.
I will follow Senator Ardagh's example yesterday by raising the matter of BusConnects, which was debated in a Private Members' motion in the Lower House yesterday. It is a matter of great concern. Much of the plan is very good, such as the 90-minute transfer to connect between Luas, DART and Dublin Bus, which is excellent. There is also the investment in infrastructure and in more buses. I appreciate it is only a draft proposal and that we, as Members of the Oireachtas, will meet representatives of the National Transport Authority later today. Many bus routes serve a valid purpose. They are direct routes, sometimes from certain areas to colleges or hospitals, which will involve people connecting. For people, especially those who are elderly or not particularly agile, getting off one bus and having to connect to another, being obliged to queue or perhaps missing that connection and being obliged to wait, are matters of concern. The devil is in the detail. Transport related matters will be discussed later. BusConnects is a matter that concerns many parties. Fine Gael as a party is concerned about it, Fianna Fáil has held many public meetings in Dublin on the matter and it is something we need to examine. We should have time to talk about that specifically, separate from the debate today. Each time the Minister, Deputy Ross, comes before this House, he tends to speak for a long time initially - he might not do so today - there are a certain number of contributions from Members and then the Minister has a very short time to respond, which is usually not sufficient.
I ask the Leader to schedule the debate.
I want to support another transport matter. Cyclists.ie has called for 10% of the land transfer budget to be spent on cycling. In fact, a discussion is taking place in Buswells Hotel that will be followed by a presentation.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the House to discuss affordable housing because the qualifying criteria differ depending on the local authority. We do not have an affordable housing scheme. Anybody who earns in excess of €42,000 will not qualify for affordable housing and, certainly in Dublin, that level of income is not sufficient to buy a home. We need to analyse the difference in house prices around the country. Perhaps we should allow for a greater threshold that would allow people to qualify for affordable housing in more expensive areas, particularly in the Dublin region.
I thank the Leader for his attention and ask him to comment on the amendment.
I second my colleague's request that the Dr. Scally report be discussed at the earliest possible date. I do not seek an amendment to today's Order of Business but I ask the Leader to place the debate on the Order of Business at the earliest opportunity next week.
This morning, two of the most beautiful little children I ever saw in my life are sitting in wheelchairs in the AV room but they have a death sentence hanging over them because they are two of 25 people who suffer from spinal muscular atrophy, SMA II. I shall not pretend to know anything about the disease. However, a clinician and a pharmacist are in the AV Room and they have informed people that there is a drug that will arrest the disease and increase the life expectancy of these children. I was impressed by a little nine-year old girl who made a presentation. I am a grandfather and found her words heartbreaking. We should give whatever money is necessary. Lack of money is a matter close to my heart. Day after day, we receive emails about pre-budget presentations, which is a load of bloody nonsense because the budget is well sorted at this stage. Making presentations now that seek adjustments to the budget is a nonsense and they are simply a PR stunt. The kids with SMA II are not engaged in a PR stunt. I invite anybody who does not believe what I am saying to go to the AV room to meet them and their parents. The presentation is the most heartbreaking I have heard in the Oireachtas in a long time. There are only 25 sufferers nationally. I do not know whether my colleague, Senator Reilly, is in a position to comment on the matter and I will not test his knowledge of same. If there is drug therapy available, then, for God's sake, let us spend whatever money is necessary to provide same.
I commend the Members of this House and the Lower House who attended the parade for respect and loyalty that took place yesterday for the Defence Forces. I thank my colleague, Senator McFadden, for mentioning the march here as part of her Commencement debate yesterday.
As we have heard about the White Paper forever and about everything and anything under the sun, I have a question for the Leader. Will the Government publish the submission that was made to the Public Service Pay Commission? We need to see the submission in order that we can assess the outcome when the final report is published. I make my request because the march was attended by 2,500 veterans. They have put their lives on the line not just for this country but also for peace. Yesterday, my colleague, Declan Power, read out the names of the people from this country who have lost their lives serving the Defence Forces and the people of this country. Will the Leader to ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence to publish the submission to the commission as a matter of urgency, or at least circulate it to Members of this House?
To the best of my knowledge, Senator Horkan did not formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business. He made a proposal that was seconded by Senator Craughwell but it was not a formal proposal to amend the Order of Business, as I understand it.
That is correct.
I have just come from Buswells Hotel where cyclists.ie is presenting its pre-budget submission. As a Senator from Waterford, I have seen the benefits of cycling. The Waterford greenway has been an absolute game-changer in Waterford in tourism and encouraging local people to cycle. Everyone knows that cycling not only reduces emissions, thus helping Ireland to achieve its climate targets; it also improves one's health.
Cyclists.ie wants 10% of Ireland's land transport budget to be spent on cycling this year. It is critical that we, as a nation, support this request. My colleagues in Fianna Fáil have put forward a good policy on cycling. It is incumbent on every Member to take read the policy as it is progressive. The Green Party has harped on about investing in cycling for many years. It is critical that we, as a nation, invest in cycling promotion and infrastructure. I know of a chap from Waterford who used to cycle to Tramore beach every summer and is now in his eighties. He bought himself an electric bike this year and his life has changed as a result. In latter years, he found the manual bike to be tough going but his electric bike has given him the opportunity to cycle 12 km to the beach. Investment in infrastructure and cycling is, therefore, critical. I ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to get real and join the 21st century by supporting cyclists.ie's request for 10% of the land transport budget to be spent on cycling this year.
I congratulate Ms Liadh Ní Riada, MEP, who is the presidential candidate nominated by Sinn Féin. I thank her for agreeing to represent my party in the election. She is a wonderful, formidable woman who has overcome an awful lot in her life. The one thing that appeals to me about her is not only that she is formidable, courageous and all of those things that I admire in any human being, but she is standing forward. I would be proud to have her as our President. She would be a president for all of the people and nobody would be left behind in a country where she was president. I wish her well in her campaign and I also wish the other presidential hopefuls well, including Senator Joan Freeman. It takes a lot of courage to put one's name forward and I appeal to the media not to engage in the viciousness and nonsense that usually goes on, particularly in the presidential election race. I urge the media to give us a chance to get to know the candidates and see what they stand for and believe in. A little fairness would go a long way.
Like Senator Craughwell, I want to raise the issue of SMA II, as I met the families at the presentation in the AV Room. SMA is a degenerative disease. It is the number one cause of death in infants and causes deterioration in muscle tone and strength, usually ending in premature death. There has been a breakthrough with a new drug called Spinraza, which dramatically decreases the loss of the motor neurone function for patients with SMA. Spinraza is the first drug to be approved for treating the disorder. In May 2017, the European Medicines Agency granted market authorisation for this drug and, in October 2017, the HSE received a reimbursement application. There was great disappointment among the SMA community when, in December 2017, the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics completed a health technology assessment of Spinraza and did not recommend the reimbursement at the price submitted. The assessment was considered by the HSE drugs group in May 2018 but no decision has yet been arrived at.
I ask the Leader to bring our concerns about this issue to the Minister for Health and to ask him to speed up the process. Unfortunately, many of the people affected by this do not have the luxury of time. It is a travesty and contradicts the scientific evidence of the merits of the drug that it has not been approved for reimbursement. It has been approved in 19 other countries. This happens so many times with these drugs for rare diseases. Those living in this country - the children we met in the AV room - have the same rights as those living in other countries, and they deserve to get the drug as well. It is not down to an issue of cost because if we can give charitable status to foreign vulture funds, which make billions out of this country, we can surely make these drugs available to a small number of children and people affected.
I welcome the Leader back and hope he had a very productive summer. We will have a very intense period in the lead up to Christmas. I am aware the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, have both been in this House in relation to housing and related issues. I am still of the view that we need to have a further constructive debate on this issue. I hope to see proposals from the Government on short-term lettings. While such proposals will not fix the housing crisis, they will very quickly put at least 1,000 additional units on the rental market. It may also have a positive impact in reducing rents in our main urban areas. The record across the world is a reduction of between 1% to 4% when short-term lettings are regulated. I hope to see these proposals very shortly and will welcome them.
The Government constantly refers to this as being a supply issue that has to be dealt with. An area I have repeatedly raised is Poolbeg West, the former Irish Glass Bottle site, where approximately 3,500 units could be developed over the short, medium and long term. It was very disappointing that An Bord Pleanála could not make a decision in relation to this site in early August because of lack of resources.
The Government has sent much additional work in the direction of An Bord Pleanála, and this is tying up and delaying planning decisions, which are badly needed right across the country. We allowed the number of inspectors to slip to as low as four or five. It has recently been brought up to 13 but now all planning proposals of more than 100 units are going directly to An Bord Pleanála. It needs to be resourced properly to deal with the level of work going in that direction. Otherwise we are going to see delay after delay regarding housing developments. We will need to see at least one additional staff member to do this work in a timely fashion. This is an effort to highlight where we can improve the supply element of this issue. It is not acceptable when we see a development that could supply 3,500 units delayed in An Bord Pleanála because of a resources issue. It should not be acceptable to the Government and we need speedy action on this.
I am aware Senator Grace O'Sullivan dealt with the issue of cycling and I am not going to go over it. I ask the Leader for a proper debate on transport. We need some proper ground rules. The particular Minister who attends talks out the debate and we do not get answers. That is as frustrating for Fine Gael Senators as it is for Fianna Fáil Senators and for everyone else. We need proper interaction on transport when the Minister comes in. There has to be sufficient time for the Minister to address those points. I am aware it is difficult but it would be helpful to all in the House if we had a discussion with the Minister and proper engagement when he comes to the House rather than talking out issues.
On one famous occasion in the House, the Minister spoke at length about the Rugby World Cup and addressed no other issue raised by Senators. We have challenges in relation to the Metro line, BusConnects, cycling and pedestrians across the country. We need that level of engagement with the Minister. I know that it will be difficult for the Leader. It is a big job but I believe he is up to it. We have to have that discussion with the Minister and to try to get him to show a little bit of courtesy to this House.
I also want to raise the issue of BusConnects. I am aware the Minister will be here after the Order of Business and hope that in his address on Project Ireland 2040 this issue will be a central part of it. This goes to the core of what good governance is about in planning. I do not wish to be critical of anybody but there is a sense among Dubliners that this plan seems to reflect many other cities internationally that were built on grid systems, which ours was not.
There is tremendous concern in Fingal, particularly in Skerries, Balbriggan, Rush and Lusk, about the express bus service which gets people into town very efficiently and very effectively through the Dublin Port tunnel. While we await the development of metro, a critical part of infrastructure which I am sure the Minister will address this afternoon, the issue of BusConnects needs proper consultation. I know the project group is here today to discuss matters with Members and I hope to get to meet it. The idea, however, of people having to get three buses in order to reach their destination in town and the disruption of train services, some of which I understand is due to the loss of three trains during peak hours in Portmarnock, are an indication that greater consideration needs to be given to the services people already have. There is the unfortunate history of this not being properly co-ordinated, with buses arriving after the train leaves and vice versa and with people being left hanging around. There are more specific instances that I hope to raise with the Minister this afternoon.
I agree with others who spoke about cycling and the need to spend more money and expend more energy providing safe cycling lanes for people. Many more people would cycle longer distances to work if it was safe to do so. I come back to the issue of the greenways. I hope the Minister for Finance will reflect the need for further investment in the greenways in the budget. In the north Fingal area where we have a coastline with six or seven train stations and the whole of Dublin city on our doorstep, we could avail of safe cycling through very nice coastal greenways to the benefit of all concerned. We will be here with the Minister this afternoon to hear what he has to say and I hope he will address these serious issues.
Like previous speakers, I support the families outside Leinster House protesting to get their children the drug Spinraza. It is crucial that the Minister steps in and delivers this drug to save these children's lives.
I take the opportunity to congratulate team Ireland, which claimed the first ever world championship medal when it won eventing silver at the World Equestrian Games. This is a major achievement made very special for my own county because Sam Watson from Carlow was on the team. His father John won an individual silver medal four decades ago. Sam and his team are celebrating the fact that the Irish eventing team is the first Irish team in any sport to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020. They arrived home last night and were a sight for sore eyes in Dublin Airport. There was no luck involved. It was the product of seriously hard work and a battle for funding for the sport, funding we should be able to provide. We are always saying we need money for this and for that, but when we have such sports people who work extremely hard and win internationally, we should enable them to go on winning, to make history, to set records and to have the world talk about our little country for good reasons. I want to say well done to the team and wish it well.
I was very disappointed this week to read that IDA Ireland has only made three visits to Carlow this year. In the south-east region, it has made no meaningful visits at all, unless one counts Waterford, which received 14 visits.
The south east needs investment. We need jobs, infrastructure and to get more IDA Ireland visits. We must stop the concentration on cities and spread businesses. We are a tiny island and we should be able to attract businesses to any part of Ireland, not only places five minutes from an airport. I am asking the Leader for another debate. We talked about the south east previously but we need another debate to know why the recovery is not as quick in getting to the likes of Carlow and other areas as it is in getting from Dublin to Waterford. Can we have a debate on that issue? Another debate is needed on why IDA Ireland is not paying more visits to towns in rural areas, such as Carlow, and other urban areas that need IDA Ireland investment.
I will begin by extending this House's sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives in the storm. One victim died in Galway and the second victim was from my own county, Armagh. I take the opportunity to extend our sympathies.
I certainly believe the decision by the ploughing association to cancel Wednesday at the ploughing championships was the right one. It was about the protection of people's lives and property. We cannot underestimate the significance of this event and the impact this closure will have on both the association and the people and participants at the ploughing championships. The figures for the first day show there were 98,500 people in attendance and it certainly was set up to be a very successful week in Tullamore. That being said, we need to monitor the situation. I encourage everyone to support the remaining days at the ploughing championships. It is a huge dent to their ambitions to lose one day, even though that day is being replaced by the addition of Friday to the calendar. I would like to send out a message to the general public and encourage everyone to support the initiative and the event. It is certainly the showcase event for the agrifood industry. It is attended by people from both Northern Ireland and the Republic, but also from England, Scotland and Wales, and international visitors. It is a hugely important showcase for the industry.
In addition, I am aware, listening to news reports this morning, that there are further warnings of imminent storm conditions. It would be prudent to be aware that these further high winds and adverse weather are on the way. I credit and congratulate the Government and the Minister for trying to communicate this message to the general public in a timely manner in advance of the previous set of storms. There were tweets from the Minister on a regular basis warning people to protect themselves and their property when the storm was about to hit. There are concerns that we need to have a concerted effort from everyone, through the media channels and elected representatives, to alert people that we may be in for a turbulent spell of weather over the weekend and that it is in everyone's interest to protect themselves, protect people and protect property.
I read with much joy that the English FA, the Irish FA, the Welsh FA, the Scottish FA and the FAI are looking at bidding for the 2030 World Cup. It would be a five-way bid. This is hugely significant, especially after we were not successful in getting the Rugby World Cup. In 2002, we were looking at the European Championships for the island. This sends out a signal that we are able to work together. Yesterday, I flew from Manchester. Just in front of me, there were officials and I did not realise they were coming to Dublin to discuss this bid. As a Parliament, we should give this bid our fullest support because this is cross-border working, on the island of Ireland and between the two islands. I will be attending the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary meeting next week and I intend to raise the efforts to get this significant 2030 World Cup for these islands.
There is also Brexit and we must avoid a hard border. There is the Labour Party conference in Liverpool next week and the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham the following week. There is goodwill on both sides. There are open exchanges happening in Salzburg but 18 October is vital. I hope that we will be able to come to some solution but we have to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. I wish all the negotiators, the Taoiseach and many others, all the best in the coming weeks because this will have a huge influence on what happens on the island of Ireland.
I raise the issue of migration and ask for a debate on the migration crisis across Europe. During the summer, I was part of a delegation from the Council of Europe that attended SOS children's camps in Athens. We saw the wonderful work that is going on there but we were conscious that the children who had accessed these camps were the lucky ones and a small minority. It is shocking to realise that there are thousands of children effectively detained in detention centres across Europe at present. Only this morning, I saw reports on Euronews about a camp on the island of Lesbos called Moria. It has a capacity for 3,000 people but currently has 9,000 in the camp. The conditions are appalling - no hot water for women with new babies, dozens of people for any one toilet, no proper facilities, no education facilities, no support. With winter approaching, they are in makeshift camps. One has to wonder, when one hears a lot of guff all the time about European values, where are these European values for these children. It is a huge failing.
I do not blame the Greek Government. The Greek Government has been swamped by the crisis. All of us can agree it is countries such as our own that have not done enough. It struck me on the visit to the SOS camps that regardless of whether my colleagues are on the right or, like myself, on the left, we all agreed that this was appalling and that Government should do more. The Government's target of 4,000 is just not adequate. The reality is 3,000 people have come to date. Would it not be wonderful if we could have a debate on this topic, agree on a cross-party basis and send a clear message to the Government that we must do more to bring more people to this country, to build a new future for them, and in our way show more than mere talk and do something concrete to help address this appalling crisis?
This morning I was at the Ombudsman's office for the progress report on "A Good Death". I am happy to say there has been major progress and development in end of life care in Irish acute hospitals. There was a group from Malawi present and they were following the Ombudsman for a week or two to see how he works. Their biggest concern was where they would get food and clean water. I have always felt that if the Irish people metaphorically got on an aeroplane and landed in Calcutta for a month, we might find out a different definition of poverty, and if we went off to Japan we might find out a different definition of manners.
However, the progress has been good. One of the big issues the Ombudsman points out to us is our lack of communication; that we do not communicate tragedy and bad news well, and also our lack of language. We have changed our language now. Nobody dies in Ireland; we just pass, like kidney stones, or disappear into a hedge. There is no such thing. We do not hold on to the ritual of that. He also pointed out the space and place within hospitals. It was good. The Leader started this, as then Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children many years ago, and I got the opportunity to look at this area. It will happen to 100% of us and we should really take it very seriously.
We have had protests all over the past week and during the summer about the closure of certain post offices that had to close and certain ones that did not have to close in villages and towns around the country and about the decline of rural Ireland. I would like to invite the Minister back here. The reason I want him to come is I think this has more to do with a banking system. I am very interested in social banking, as the Senators will be aware, and community banking. There is wind of high-level negotiations between the top cats in the post office and Ulster Bank. The banks play agency roles within the post office. That is how we pay our bills and there is nothing wrong with that. I refer to a commercial pillar bank that will be brought in under the auspices of An Post, outside community and social banking, and all the profits will go to it. The reason Bank of Ireland does not want to get into the post offices is because it got into the post offices in England and it will take billions of pounds to get the bank out, which the British people are trying to do. I would like the Minister to come in to find out whether all of these rumours are true. This will be the biggest election issue.
The new poor, no competition, huge percentages, huge APRs and rural Ireland are the election issues. I will not be standing for election, but I am just communicating this to my colleagues here. I would like to have the Minister in to tell us if it is true that he is having high-level negotiations with the awfulness and appallingness of Ulster Bank and who put USC on everything we earn and a levy on every part of our pensions and every bit of money that comes in from the work we do. This is the banks together working under the auspices of sheer incompetence and greed. I would like to know whether that is true.
I wish to raise a housing matter that is not often talked about, namely, the progress that has been made in the provision of student accommodation. My understanding is that more that 5,000 fully operational student beds have been brought into use over the last 12 months, with a further 4,000 being built and approximately 7,000 going through the planning process. This is part of the long-term planning we need to do. One of the major complaints I have heard about planning in this country is that we build one part of the jigsaw and then come back to try to build the other part ten years later. What needs to go hand in hand with the expansion of universities is the development of accommodation. The Ministers of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the past three or four years have, to be fair, encouraged the building of student accommodation and it is important that this continues to get that support.
I would also like to briefly touch on an issue I raised previously, one I was glad to see dealt with at a recent conference of coroners. This is the matter of unidentified bodies in this country and the fact there is no central database to record them. If a body is discovered in Kerry, for example, and cannot be identified, the information is kept in Kerry, in the coroner's own area. I am glad the coroners' conference recently held in Portlaoise agreed to a proposal for a centralised database, thus making information available to the authorities. In the last 12 months we had a case involving a person who had been reported missing in Dublin more than ten years ago, and a body washed up in County Louth three months later. It is only in the last 12 months that two and two were put together to establish that the body washed up was the person who had been reported missing. This kind of information needs to be available. It is important that we ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to rubber-stamp and move forward this proposal for a centralised database for all unidentified bodies. My understanding is that there are about 200 such bodies around the country and it is important that this issue be dealt with.
I would like to raise the issue of insurance costs and the crippling impact that these costs are having on business and consumers alike. Year on year, consumers can see huge increases in their premiums and it has now reached the stage where many are struggling to pay them. I appreciate that many factors contribute to the rise in insurance costs. One such factor is fraudulent claims, something on which we definitely we need to get a grip. It is unfair that someone can make a fraudulent claim and walk away from it scot-free.
A second contributory issue is that of insurance payouts, which are four and a half times higher in this country than in the United Kingdom. The average payout in Ireland amounts to €21,000, compared to only €4,000 in the United Kingdom; between €2,500 and €6,000 in Germany; and approximately €1,500 in France. I read a report recently which claimed that Ireland is the whiplash capital of Europe as apparently we have very high level of whiplash claims in this country. I always thought that many Irish people had hard necks on them but these statistics would seem to prove otherwise. The most recent statistics available to us show that whiplash accounts for approximately 80% of motor insurance claims in this country, as compared to just 3% in France. The average payout for whiplash in Ireland is €15,000, which is three times higher than in the United Kingdom and five times higher than either Italy or Spain.
I appreciate that a report has been carried out on insurance costs and recommendations made. Unfortunately we have yet to see many of those recommendations implemented. I would like the Leader to arrange for the Minister to appear before the House to advise as to where the Government stands on these recommendations. I am sure the Leader and all our constituents would agree that insurance is a serious issue and one that needs to be tackled now.
With regard to Storm Ali, I extend condolences to the families of those who tragically died in the storm. Nothing can prepare one for the shock of dealing with a loss from such a seemingly random event. There have been some criticisms of the Government, perhaps unfairly, that we were somehow unprepared for Storm Ali this week. It has been reported that the Tánaiste commented that the public was not prepared, that storm fatigue might have kicked in, and that if people do not see a red warning then they fail to sit up and take sufficient notice. At first this comment might seem almost insensitive in the circumstances, but perhaps the Tánaiste has touched on an issue here which needs to be addressed somehow. It has struck me over the last year that there has been a proliferation of yellow and orange warnings issued by Met Éireann, even during what seemed to be relatively innocuous weather events. Perhaps the public has been lulled into a false sense of security when it does not see a red warning: life is expected to go on as normal and people go to work and so on.
The fact that we have seen highly competent responses to Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Emma in the last 12 months may have also led to people mentally taking the foot off the pedal. This would seem to be connected to a succession of strange weather events. The yellow-orange-red warning system has been relatively new to us in the last 18 months or so. With climate change becoming more of an issue, perhaps we need a debate on how we are going to deal with weather events in the future. Do we need to have systems in place that do not need to be kicked in in times of emergency only? Could some further assessment be made of the current warning system to see if it can be refined or reclassified? We certainly need to have a system in place so that there be no doubt in people’s minds about the dangers of particular weather events, even at times when life must go on and we have not quite reached the threshold of being told to stay at home and batten down the hatches. Speaking of orange areas, there are no grey areas when safety is an issue. We need to look at what more we can do to ensure we all enter the mode of alertness we need if we are going to avoid unnecessary fatalities and injuries.
I pay tribute to members of the emergency services for their work during the brief storm yesterday and, of course, pass on my condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives.
We have heard much talk in the media and elsewhere about the housing crisis and the challenges facing this country when it comes to dealing with people who find themselves without a home, as well as the thousands in middle Ireland who cannot afford to buy a home in Dublin. We are now in the situation where a nurse and a teacher would not be in a position to buy a house in certain parts of the city, thus returning us to an era we neither want nor welcome. The solution is to build houses, and plenty of them.
There are also many other quirks, difficulties and challenges.
The absolute restriction placed on listed buildings is one of them. It is right that we respect our tradition, heritage and culture. At the same time, however, we must allow property owners to get permission to build, extend and renovate buildings regardless of whether they are listed. What is the point in having a listed building that is empty and where nothing is happening but where the owner of the building cannot afford to have something happen? The owner cannot do so because the requirements, difficulties and challenges make it so expensive to comply with the various conservation officers in local authorities. We need to have a conversation about easing the restrictions on bringing into use derelict listed buildings. It will not solve the housing crisis but it will be a part of dealing with it.
I concur with Senator Mullen in passing on the sympathy of this House to the families who suffered the tragic loss of two members in recent days. It is hard to believe such a loss could come while holidaying in such a scenic spot in Ireland.
I have two simple queries for the Leader. We tend to see many items floated in the newspapers first but they have to find their legs somewhere. The first query is on local property tax, LPT. I see a big whip being bandied around about taking the power to set local property tax from local government. I refer to the discretion in changing the tax up or down by 15%. I am curious to know if this was kite flying by the Government. The threat to take that power from local government certainly seemed to come through those natural channels. It was brought to my attention by Councillor Cormac Devlin yesterday at the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, meeting in Mullingar and I read the piece in question afterwards. Many councillors had extreme concerns because it is one of the few hard powers that have been left with them. That is one concern and I am curious to know if the Leader knows anything about it.
Second, a document is to be released in the next couple of days with particular reference to the midlands. Some people who are city-based might not be aware of it but the Leader and many of my colleagues present from country areas - at least outside the M50 - certainly are aware of the national planning framework and its intentions for rural Ireland. I refer in particular to planning and the number of hubs and zones for development that are being examined. What is going to be done to one-off planning and even planning in towns and villages is dramatic. If the proposals under this new national planning framework come to fruition, there will be a change in the Irish way of life. When the planning proposals are fully ventilated and people are aware of what is being proposed, I believe groups involved socially in rural Ireland such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and others will be vehemently against some of them.
That is because it is going to be the death knell of rural Ireland. Anyone travelling through rural Ireland at present can see shops in villages and towns are closing in front of us. I was listening to the radio coming in this morning. I did not hear the full extent but a chap who was incapacitated and had come through an arduous journey in Ireland was speaking. I did not get the full gist of the story on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning but he mentioned how he was met with generosity in rural Ireland. He also spoke about closures in towns and villages. I suspect there will be a serious backlash in respect of the national planning framework if cognisance is not taken of rural Ireland and the people who intend to stay there and live the lives their forefathers have lived.
I thank the 16 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. I join Senators Marshall and Mullen in paying tribute to the men and women who went out yesterday and worked tirelessly to ensure that there were safe roads and safe power supplies and who were first responders. I offer my sympathy and that of the House to the bereaved families of those tragically killed yesterday in counties Galway and Antrim. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anamacha dílis.
I thank Senators Horkan and Craughwell for raising the issue of the Scally inquiry. It is an important report and the Government has committed to accepting its 50 recommendations in their entirety. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, spoke in the Dáil yesterday on the debate. Rather than divide the House, if Senator Horkan is agreeable - Senator Craughwell was obliged to attend another meeting - I intend to bring the Minister for Health into the House next Tuesday evening.
That is agreed.
I thank the Senator for agreeing to it. It is important to have the report debated in this House and I will endeavour to have that next Tuesday evening.
The issue of transport was raised by a number of Senators. Senators Horkan, Humphreys and Reilly raised the BusConnects consultation, which was also raised yesterday by their colleagues Senators Ardagh and Clifford-Lee. The concerns expressed by many Members in this House today have been articulated across the city of Dublin via the BusConnects consultation. The reorganisation of the bus system in Dublin is definitely exercising people's minds, not least those of public representatives but also the citizen commuters who want to see their travel experience not diminished but increased or enhanced. As I said yesterday, it is important that there be proper consultation and engagement by Dublin Bus, the Canadian consultants it has brought in, public representatives and by citizens. I welcome that-----
And the National Transport Authority.
Yes, absolutely, the NTA also. I made that point yesterday. We have a situation in my native city of Cork around the M28 where, had the NTA and the local authority engaged in a meaningful way, I believe there would not have been half the confusion that arose. It is important that people engage. In my case, I am ware that Councillor Emer Higgins, Deputies Rock and Brophy and Senator Reilly all have had public meetings on this matter. The bus redesign in the capital city is complex and, as Senator Reilly said, we cannot just go on a grid system in Dublin. It will have a profound impact and I hope we will see a positive outcome. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will be in the House today.
I am smiling at Senator Humphreys making reference to the Minister's participation in the debate here. It was one debate where he spoke for a number of minutes on the Rugby World Cup but he has been here many times and, to be fair to the Minister, he has never shied away from debating transport matters. If we need to extend the Minister's time at the end, the House can do so if that is the request and requirement.
On the issue of cycling raised by Senators Horkan and Grace O'Sullivan, the Government has allocated €8 million to the cycling policy. There has been €100 million allocated in capital funding for cycling and walking infrastructure. In Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, €55 million has been allocated in greenways and the Government is dedicated to implementing a cycling policy and improving cycling infrastructure. In tandem with that, it is important to recognise that the reduced speed limits in our urban areas will assist cyclists, as will the legislation on the minimum passing distances, as well as a commitment to the bike scheme and cycle lanes. I agree that the overarching thrust must be and should be about increasing the amount of money to be spent on promoting cycling as an alternative to the car and public transport.
Senators Horkan, Conway and Colm Burke raised the issue of housing. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will come to the House in the coming weeks to discuss the matter of housing. I will be happy to have him come to the House on that matter.
Senators Horkan and Feighan made reference to Brexit. The news today from Salzburg, while not unexpected, is nonetheless disappointing because we do not seem to have any further progress. A deal on Brexit, as we all know, is desirable and is what we want as a country. It is a very important time for us as a small island nation which will be most affected. We will be affected by Brexit, North and South. It is fair to say much has been agreed already but the issue of Ireland is the major one. I commend the Taoiseach, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and particularly the Tánaiste and Minister, Deputy Coveney, on their work. I commend the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue of Brexit and all involved. We should not forget that the status quo that exists today will not be the status quo of the future. A good deal on Brexit will not allow us to have what we have now. We need to prepare ourselves for it. It is not a case that we can click our fingers and Brexit will disappear. There will be consequences. We will feel an effect from Brexit no matter what happens. We need to condition ourselves to understand that change will occur as a consequence of Brexit. Those who think it will not are misguided. There will be profound changes as a result of Brexit. We do not agree with the vote in the United Kingdom and we will be affected the most by it. As the Minister, Deputy Creed, said recently, it is a negative net gain. There are no positives in it. We need to make ourselves aware of that.
Senator Craughwell made reference to the Defence Forces. Yesterday the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, was here to address Senator McFadden's Commencement matter. The Minister of State has been very proud and proactive in his defence and support of members of the Defence Forces. He has always come to the House to debate matters related to defence. That is why the Government has initiated the Public Service Pay Commission and why it is in the process of restoring pay and reversing the cuts that were introduced during the economic recession. It is fair to say the Minister of State of all the Ministers who have served in the Department understands and values the role of the Defence Forces. It is demonstrated by his visits to Army barracks and to troops overseas. That is in addition to the Minister, Deputy Coveney's, commitment in the Mediterranean. That is why the Government set up the Public Service Pay Commission. Senator Craughwell made reference to the Public Service Pay Commission's submission. If Senator Craughwell took time, he would realise that like all public sector deals that submission will be published as part of the report. When the report is published, it will be clear for all to see what has been submitted and agreed. The outcome must be to enhance the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces. I look forward to the report being published in due course.
Senators Craughwell and Conway-Walsh referred to the drug Spinraza and the presentation in the AV room by young people who have spinal muscular atrophy. It is a matter that is stressful for the families and the children affected. They face profound challenges that some of us here can only imagine. It is a progressive and life-limiting condition. The NCP has conducted a full pharmacoeconomic evaluation and has not recommended the reimbursement but there is an application with the HSE. I hope there will be a positive outcome in the case. I am a former Chairman of the Oireachtas health committee which held hearings on rare diseases. Perhaps a case could be made to the Minister for this drug to be considered under the orphan drugs scheme. I understand and acknowledge the stress and difficulties that arise and which these families and children face every day. I hope there will be a positive outcome. I thank the families for being here today and apologise that I could not be at the briefing this morning.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the presidential election. I wish all candidates, of whatever hue, well, whether they are Independent, party or non-party. The local authorities are correct to invoke their powers to nominate candidates. I hope all who want to run can get a nomination to run and that we can have an election in which everyone can participate in order that they can all be part of the debate. Senator Conway-Walsh made reference to the debate. Let us have the debate whatever it contains. What we must do is ensure the election is a fair and democratic one and that it is done in a manner which is respectful of each candidate's position and personality and I hope that will happen.
Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to the success of our eventing team. I join her in congratulating our eventing team on their silver medal. It was a fantastic weekend for Irish sport. Sam Watson, Cathal Daniels and Padraig McCarthy were joined in their success by the O'Donovan brothers and Sanita Puspure in the rowing. It shows the importance of the Government's support and of our support, as a nation, in putting value on sport. Sport is a great unifier and it brings great joy. It can bring heartbreak but when we see the successes of eventing and our rowers it augurs well. I congratulate the ladies of Dublin on winning the all-Ireland ladies' football final last weekend. I am sure the Cathaoirleach will join me in congratulating Cork on winning the camogie All-Ireland.
When Senator Murnane-O'Connor comes into the House, I am not sure if she is trying to provoke me with her contributions but I remind her that nine out of every ten new jobs created in the past 12 months were outside Dublin. The Action Plan for Rural Development is committed to ensuring the economic recovery is felt throughout Ireland and the creation of rural jobs is vital in order to achieve this. In the region in which Senator Murnane-O'Connor lives and which she represents, 19,851 jobs were created last year by foreign companies. It is the third consecutive year of strong growth. We have seen more than 210,443 people employed through foreign direct investment in our country. Some people would not want any jobs or investment from abroad but 210,443 people have been employed by FDI companies in the country. In the regions, Senator Murnane O'Connor should know there was a 9% growth in the south east, where she is from, which amounts to 14,918 people in total employment. We should recognise there is employment happening and the Government is committed to the growth of the regions. It links to Senator Davitt's point. The national planning framework will be about improving the lives of people in rural Ireland. It is about ensuring rural Ireland is habitable and that people can be employed and live there. The challenge we face in terms of shops closing is not only a rural Ireland one; it is an urban problem too. It is part of the modern world in which we live. If one listened to the debate yesterday on the post office network, it is a challenge we see in our post offices that has to be faced. A similar issue arises if one looks at the banking system. I will come back to Senator O'Donnell's comments in a minute. I appeal to the banks not to take people out of the banks in any part of the country. It beggars belief that we are now going into banks where there are no tellers or staff but only a machine. It is wrong and should not be allowed to continue.
Senator Marshall raised the issue of the National Ploughing Championships and their benefits, as well as the benefits to rural Ireland. The points he made are well documented. The importance of farming and agriculture to the country is well noted by the Government and the industry is a priority for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I join Senator Feighan in congratulating the nations involved in the bid for the 2030 World Cup. I hope it is successful. It would be a fantastic achievement for the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, and Ireland.
Senator Gavan raised the important issue of migration, in particular in the Moria camp, about which he is correct. Where are European values when it comes to dealing with people who are displaced and dispossessed and living in migrant camps? We have a duty and an obligation to highlight the inadequacies and the anomalies in that system, but also to be a harbour of welcome for people. I congratulate the Senator for raising the matter.
I thank Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for her work on end-of-life care. Last week, the Irish hospice movement held a number of visible events around the country concerning end-of-life care. People like Mr. Bryan Nolan deserve huge credit, praise and gratitude for the work they are doing, their language and the way in which they engage with people. The Senator is so right. I do not mean to be patronising, but it is about language and communication. I heard a nice interview on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" last week. People said that if they talked about the issue, they felt they were bringing a curse on themselves. They did not want to talk about death and end-of-life care. It is something that is before us all, as the Senator said, and we must plan for end-of-life care. I hope that the Senator's report does not just limp along-----
Or gather dust.
Or gather dust.
Dust it is, and unto dust-----
It shall return, exactly. Whether it will be on the third day or the last day, I am not sure. The image of the knots on the cover of the Senator's book reflects how we should join together as a country to have that conversation about end-of-life care.
Yesterday we had an important debate on post offices and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment was honest in his remarks to the House. We will bring him back before the House to discuss the issue of banking. It is about the post office network expanding its range of services and its remit. I am not sure what the Minister has in mind and whether that will include community or social banking. We will have him back in due course to discuss the matter.
I join Senator Colm Burke in welcoming the increase in construction and availability of student accommodation throughout the country. The Senator is correct; we are only now playing catch-up in building student accommodation adjacent to universities and institutes of technology, which we should have done at the beginning. That is now taking place across university towns and cities.
The issue concerning coroners and a database of bodies is important. Senator Colm Burke's Bill addresses this in part, but it is something on which we need to keep a vigilant eye.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of insurance costs. Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns commented as chairperson of the Personal Injuries Commission that payments have gotten out of hand and that we are paying out an inordinate amount. He is perhaps right in that regard. The judicial council legislation containing guidelines for personal injuries is a priority for the Government. We need to have a conversation on personal injury payouts. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, has been instrumental and has come into the House and updated us on the cost of insurance and the work of the cost of insurance working group, which has published six quarterly reports. Of the 71 deadlines, 58 were met. One of the key actions was the delivery of the final report of the commission, which I hope will be the launch pad for further reform. The implementation of that recommendation should have an impact on the awarding of personal injury damages in the future. Moreover, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, data for August 2018 show that motor insurance premia have decreased by 20% since their peak in 2016. They are still too high, but we are taking action.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of Storm Ali and notifications. It is an interesting discussion to have. The Tánaiste made reference to fatigue. Perhaps it is now the case that when people hear a storm warning, they do not take it too seriously. I heard an interview on the radio earlier in which someone said that the only status red alert was for part of County Mayo because that was Met Éireann's information. To be fair to Met Éireann, it takes its role seriously. The national directorate for fire and emergency management has monitored the weather situation with Met Éireann and its members met on Tuesday to assess the impact of the storm. Some 17 counties were issued with a status orange storm alert. That came into effect on Tuesday evening and ended at 1 p.m. yesterday. It is worth noting that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government only convenes the national emergency co-ordination group for severe weather events on the advice given to him. The Taoiseach was criticised for being at the front and centre of the response to Storm Ophelia. When he was not there for Storm Ali, he was also criticised. I do not say that Senator Mullen is doing that. It is important that we have moved to a coded alert system. People should take note of it. The important point is that we should always take notice of what is being asked of us. Again, we offer our sympathies to the families bereaved during the storm.
Senator Conway raised the issue of housing. The points he makes are valid.
Senator Davitt is flying kites regarding property tax. I have not heard that powers are being taken away, but I would be happy to come back to him on the matter.
I thank the Members for the contributions. If Senator Horkan is happy, I will not amend the Order of Business. I will have the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government before the House next Tuesday.
There is no formal amendment.