I am glad you qualified your remarks regarding the resignation of the Government, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
Order of Business
You knew I would.
The Order of Business is No. 2, motion regarding the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 3, Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 6 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 8 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I am very disappointed for the 500,000 homes and businesses across Ireland who will not be in receipt of high-speed broadband. It was indicated over the weekend that the Minister was pausing the roll-out of broadband. He said it was being done on the basis that there will be an audit of the process to date.
It is as clear as night follows day that the process is flawed. The Government needs to be pragmatic, whether to start the process again or involve a State body to roll out the broadband network. We need to do a great deal more for small businesses around the country, especially in light of Brexit. The least a small business can have is access to reliable broadband but with Brexit on the horizon, as well as much uncertainty, not having broadband is a significant disadvantage to small businesses nationwide.
Second, I wish to raise the leniency of sentencing that occurred yesterday in the case of a man who assaulted his wife by hitting her twice and who received a suspended sentence. Obviously his plea of mitigation was not reported in the newspapers, however the facts that were presented were shocking. It puts a fear in the minds of victims that if they go through the courts and help the Garda in prosecuting such offences, the perpetrators may be treated as leniently. I think we need to have a debate in this House on minimum mandatory sentencing and punishment for sexual assault.
The Senator should know that she cannot make any comment on the judgment of a court.
The Senator is right, though.
I did not mention any names.
I am sorry, Leader, that is out of order in this House. A Member cannot criticise any individual judgment under the separation of powers. You are better educated than that.
No names were mentioned.
Third, I congratulate St. James's Hospital, the largest acute hospital in the country, which has gone digital. I believe that going digital will enhance patient safety, decrease waiting times and ultimately create efficiencies within the hospital. All hospitals nationwide must strive to go digital in order that we have overall efficiencies in our health service.
As there is nobody present from the Independent group, I call Senator Gavan.
Brexit is really exercising minds at present. I was speaking with a group in Dublin yesterday, including some international politicians and it looks now as though we could be well heading for a hard Brexit, which would be an absolute disaster. Anyone who heard John Redwood on the radio yesterday would immediately recognise that these are not rational people-----
These are not people with whom one can reason. Moreover, they have the worst of pacts with the DUP. It is ironic in one respect because some colleagues in this House criticise Sinn Féin for not reaching agreement with the DUP but I have absolute sympathy for the Government and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, for their inability to reach agreement with the DUP, because these people are not acting rationally. It is clear that Brexit is not in the interests of anyone in this country, North or South, yet the DUP continues to cling to this. We are looking at a Tory-DUP bounced no-deal Brexit at this point in time. I commend the position the Government has taken on the backstop, but I am worried by the comments that seem to be floating around Europe about postponing the backstop, which we heard about today. I have no great faith in Europe, given our experience during the years of austerity.
We need a wider debate at this point. I am requesting such a debate, particularly in the context of what else is required. There have been a number of excellent reports, including that by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation which highlighted the fact that we will need to look at the fiscal compact rules and ensure that an exception made for Ireland. There will also be a need for an exception to be made in the context of state aid rules because if we are heading for a hard Brexit - and even if we are not - Ireland has a very special case. The fact that only 13% of our exports go to the UK is sometimes mentioned but it must be recognised that over 40% of our indigenous business exports go to the UK. There is no doubt that we are in a very precarious situation. I call for a debate on that as a matter of urgency. From Sinn Féin's point of view, there can be no weakening of opposition in terms of insisting that the backstop be the backstop and that there be nothing further in that regard.
I want to ask about the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, which was due to be before the House three weeks ago. There seems to be a problem with the Bill. Notwithstanding the fact that not everything in it is to my liking, it is worthwhile legislation. It will take steps to protect people in precarious work and to improve their position. As already stated, there seems to be a problem with the Bill. I genuinely extend an offer of assistance to the Leader. If there are problems with the Bill, my party is more than willing to work with the Government to ensure that they are overcome. That Bill needs to be brought before the House because, for every week that does not happen, more workers are being left in precarious situations with no recourse to action. The Bill should be brought forward before this parliamentary term ends. At present, it appears that the legislation may be parked permanently. I extend an offer of co-operation to the Leader in the context of discussing the Bill and seeing if we can get it before the House before our parliamentary term ends.
I was remiss there. I meant to very much welcome the people from the Little Flower senior citizens' group from Meath Street in the Liberties but they have just left. That is my second slip-up today. We will move on. I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
I extend my best wishes to the members of Government who are taking up their positions in their new Departments today. I would like to draw particular attention to the incoming Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, as he takes up his crucial role. The Minister pronounced on Twitter that he is looking forward to the implementation of the national broadband plan as the most crucial issue facing the country. Broadband is important, especially to the communities and businesses that are disadvantaged without it. I agree that the Government's strategy in this regard needs much work, but for the Minister with responsibility for climate action not to mention the latter as he takes up his new post is a shock. I hope the Minister will apply himself with the same dedication, seriousness and hard work which we saw from him as Minister for Education and Skills. Climate change is the single biggest issue facing humanity and all life on earth. Keeping our climate stable in order to sustain life is crucial. The Minister needs to understand this. In this vein, I hope he can rely on the support of the rest of the Government in gathering some momentum in respect of climate action. This is particularly important in light of the lack of action regarding climate change in last week's budget. Outside the gates of Leinster House earlier, hundreds of citizens from various groups called for action on this matter from the Government, particularly in the context of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly in respect of climate change. One way in which the Government can take action in the short term is to get the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016 into the Seanad as quickly as possible and during Government time. I know that other Senators and I are eager to make Ireland a leader in the area of climate action as soon as possible. One quick and real way of doing this would be to get the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill into the Seanad as soon as possible.
It is a matter of grave concern that this Government is now dependent, in a formal way, on the support of Deputy Lowry. Having said that, I also find it disturbing that the Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Breen, has not explained himself to either House of this Oireachtas in respect of his engagement with Mr. McCourt and the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, which was the cause of the latter's resignation.
I consider it outrageous that the Minister of State would arrange for a senior Minister to travel over 170 miles to attend a dinner with a constituent of his yet we are supposed to believe that they never discussed the contract or the tendering and to accept that that is okay because the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, has no involvement in that Department. If the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, resigned on the basis of inappropriate contact with Mr. McCourt then, surely, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, must at least account to this House or the Lower House for his behaviour if we are to have continued confidence in his capacity to fulfil his duties. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to come to the House and account for his actions. If he has nothing to hide, there is no reason for the Leader of the House not to facilitate that request.
Ministers are not accountable to this House; they are only accountable to the Dáil under the Constitution.
That is fine, but I remember that-----
We cannot call a Minister to appear before the House. I must, therefore, rule the Senator’s proposed amendment out of order.
In that case, allow me to make this point.
Does Senator Ó Ríordáin have a question?
Let me make a request. I recall the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, coming to the House and being asked questions by Senators-----
A splendid woman.
On that occasion Deputy Fitzgerald came to the House on scheduled business that had been proposed.
I am making a request. If the Leas-Chathaoirleach is to rule me out of order-----
The Order of Business is proposed by the Leader. Senator Ó Ríordáin is making a request of the Leader.
I am requesting that the Leader invite the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to the House to answer questions about the recent controversy. I can only imagine the reaction in this House, the Lower House and the media if any Labour Party Minister or Minister of State in the previous Government did what Deputy Breen has done. I am quite sure that Fine Gael is hoping that this will be forgotten about such that it can move on to other issues and pretend it did not happen but two things must go out to the-----
The Leader can pant, moan and whinge all he likes but the reality of the situation-----
Through the Chair. The Leader will reply in due course.
The Senator is a great man to throw stones.
Here is the reality of the situation.
Please, Leader. Senator Ó Ríordáin must finish.
The Leader's Government is now dependent on the vote of a convicted criminal and trying to move away from a controversy where a Minister of State arranged a dinner with a bidder for a contract-----
I do not think he is a convicted criminal.
Whoever Senator Ó Ríordáin is referring to.
He has a criminal conviction for tax irregularities. The Government is now trying to move away from a controversy relating to the actions of a Minister of State facilitating a dinner between a bidder and a senior Minister, for which the senior Minister resigned. If the Government is trying to move away from that situation, it says a lot about where the Fine Gael Party is now.
I remind the Senator about his language.
The Senator has the same line all the time.
I am making that request of the Leader-----
He uses the same line all the time.
He uses the single transferable speech the whole time.
I am formally requesting that the Leader bring the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to the House.
The Senator is well over time.
If the Leader does not facilitate the request, it will say an awful lot about his party, and what he really believes regarding ethics and morality, and how politics should be properly conducted in this country.
Senator Ó Ríordáin has exceeded his time.
In the interest of fairness and equity, I hope the Leas-Chathaoirleach will extend to me the same latitude he showed the last speaker in terms of speaking time. I wish to raise an issue of great importance to thousands of parents around the country, particularly in Dublin and north Dublin. I refer to secondary school places for the next academic year, 2019-20. All Members will accept that in normal circumstances one would like to think that one’s child would be able to go to school along with his or her friends and continue those relationships in his or her own town.
If not, on the rare occasion where that is not possible, one would hope that it would be within the catchment area of the town next door. I understand that currently this is not an option for the children of Rush, Lusk and Skerries who are in the same catchment areas, all of which have waiting lists. One has a waiting list of 102, and I am aware of another person who is nearly at No. 30 on the list. Even though we have a new secondary school in Lusk - and the second part of that is being completed - the school will still not be able to accommodate the amount of people who have applied to it. This issue is not just related to those three towns; there are also waiting lists in Balbriggan, a town which is booming with a huge increase in population, and in Swords.
I congratulate the outgoing Minister for all the work that was done in building new schools in Balbriggan. As I said, there is a new secondary school in Lusk, and a brand new national school also just completed; it is not that great work has not been done. Others have welcomed the new members of Government and I particularly mention the Minister, Deputy Joe McHugh, who takes over from the former Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, who did such sterling work and not just in the Department of Education and Skills but also in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I am delighted that we have €196 million in the capital fund for next year.
We have also had some improvements with new autism spectrum disorder classes in Educate Together in Skerries. I am particularly concerned about the situation I have referred to, especially for the children of Rush, Lusk and Skerries. These children have fantastic teachers who get great results. They are given the best of education but in Rush in particular, the St. Joseph's secondary school needs a new building. There are prefabs now occupying a lot of the ground. I am aware that the school has submitted an application to the Department of Education and Skills, which is looking at the matter urgently. This is a request for new accommodation to accommodate the more than 100 children who have sought places there or next year.
I believe the Senator has a Commencement matter on this subject. Perhaps he should not be raising it now when he has tabled a Commencement matter on it.
I have submitted one but it was not possible to get it this week so I am hoping that perhaps next week I will be speaking on it.
It was my information that the Senator did not wish it to be taken this week.
No. I would have loved it today. I would have quite liked it on Thursday, but there you go.
I am afraid we are over time.
I will finish now. I had asked at the outset that the Leas-Chathaoirleach might allow me to same latitude as the previous speaker, on this matter of considerable importance-----
The previous speaker was representing-----
-----to thousands of parents in north County Dublin.
------and acting as the leader of his group.
That may be so.
That is why he was called first on that rota. I am sorry, Senator.
Okay. I am merely asking that the Minister would make sure that these requests for urgent school accommodation are acted upon quickly, as I know the Department intends to do. More importantly, we need a Minister to come to the House and ensure the Department of Education and Skills instructs Fingal County Council to purchase a site for the new secondary school. The new road that would open up those lands is under a compulsory purchase order and we will have a decision in December. We need this urgently.
The Senator has nearly doubled his time. I remind Senators that leaders of groups have three minutes and all other Senators have two minutes, with two items for leaders and one item for Members.
I will certainly comply with that. First, the Leas-Chathaoirleach nearly caused a shock here. We were actually out the door when he announced the Government had collapsed.
Senator Leyden knew better than that.
We were a bit concerned because one never knows what is going to happen from day to day. Roscommon-Galway regrets the departure of the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It was a great boost in the constituency to have the Minister there. Deputy Naughten is very available, very diligent and very hardworking as a Deputy, and was very effective as the Minister. It is most regrettable that this issue arose. I believe that Deputy Naughten was anxious to see broadband extended to 500,000 houses and he wanted to be hands-on. Unfortunately, this was not seen to be suitable. We wish him well in his continued political career.
I wish to compliment Ryan Tubridy and "The Late Late Show" for the show on Friday, 12 October which was broadcast from the Central Hall, Westminster, London. It was a magnificent show. It was watched by 610,000 people. It showed the proud contribution of Irish people in every walk of life in the United Kingdom. The comments on Brexit were interesting as were the other contributions, and the involvement or otherwise of the ambassador. It was a professional operation carried out by an extremely competent compere in Ryan Tubridy.
The only difficulty was that too many tickets were issued. There were 1,200 seats and 400 people were disappointed. The tickets were allocated by a UK-based company called ApplauseStore but I understand that Ryan Tubridy has promised on his radio programme to make it up to those people who were very disappointed. I have great pride at that programme being broadcast and it should be on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was a magnificent piece of work by a very professional organisation in RTÉ and we should be proud of it. We should also be proud of our contribution to the United Kingdom and what the Irish people have built in the United Kingdom. The Irish in Britain are now at the top of their game in every sense, such as in business and entertainment, for example. Anyone who watched the show would have realised how unfortunate it is that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union.
I wish to raise the issue of people being charged to view rental accommodation. Threshold came out last week to talk about this and it wants something done to protect tenants.
Landlords are charging fees for tenants to view houses which are non-refundable-----
It varies. There were several examples given by Threshold in its report last week. One woman was charged a fee of €500-----
-----and if she was not in a position to pay that €500 then she would not be allowed to view the house. Threshold has stated this is becoming more common. The current demand on rental accommodation means that landlords can do what they like and people have no choice but to pay this if they want accommodation-----
We should make it illegal in this House.
Senator Norris is on the list.
-----and I believe that it is disgusting.
Another woman who was receiving the housing assistance payment, HAP, was asked for a €300 deposit to view a property. She could not provide the €300 but she would not get the €300 deposit back if she had viewed it and if the HAP payment was insufficient to cover the rent. That is outrageous.
Another man was asked for his personal public service, PPS, number, his passport, a confirmation of his employment, his employment history, his salary details and a fee of €150. It is absolutely disgusting. Landlords are filtering out potential tenants and it is not good enough. It is discrimination and something needs to be done about it. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House to discuss this issue because it is not good enough in this day and age.
I raise the murder of the distinguished journalist, Mr. Khashoggi, in the diplomatic mission of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. I heard representatives of the British Government talking about it and while some people had suggested Britain should cancel business contracts, including arms deals, with Saudi Arabia, their response was "oh no we could not do that." It is outrageous. Do the British and American Governments know what they are financing?
They are financing the spread of the most vicious form of Islam, namely Wahhabism, and they are supplying guns and materiel of various kinds-----
-----to the people who were responsible for 9/11. It is utterly disgusting.
Second, I said at the beginning of this presidential election process that there must be an election and I am delighted that there is. I also said that my old friend and colleague, Michael D. Higgins, was a little bit old but having seen the list of candidates now, he is by far the best. He is an outstanding candidate and I will be fully supporting him. The other candidates are all decent people when they are looked at but he is the single statesman and there is no question or doubt about that.
I refer to Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I was one person in this House, although there were others, who defended her at the time that she was under sustained attack. What was done to her was appalling-----
-----and the people who made these vicious and tendentious allegations against her should now apologise. They forced the resignation of a decent woman and a good Minister and it is about time we had a few standards rather than just going after a head on the basis of imputation, suggestion and smear. We get enough of that from the press and we do not need to engage in it ourselves. I hereby call for an apology from those Senators on various sides of the House who disgraced themselves by their attacks on Deputy Fitzgerald-----
And on the Senator's own side as well.
I am not on any side, I am an Independent.
We need to discuss in this House the report issued by Mr. Justice Charleton, which vindicated the former Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a key issue. We had a good lady, a great Minister and a Tánaiste who was hunted out of office. We need to discuss how it happened, who was involved and what was said at the time. The previous speaker said it all in many ways. There needs to be an apology to Deputy Fitzgerald for what was said to her. Members of this House took a political opportunity to have a crack at a very good Minister and a great Tánaiste. There is an onus on those individuals, the members of the parties who rounded on this Minister and Tánaiste, for political opportunism and nothing else, to come to the Chamber tomorrow and make that statement. She has been totally vilified and now is the time to step forward and-----
She has been totally vindicated now.
Vindicated, sorry. The judgment by Mr. Justice Charleton is very clear. She was an honest and credible broker who did nothing wrong. We need a clear statement. I look forward to the Fianna Fáil leader clarifying that and making sure that a clear statement is made here. I am disappointed that she did not make that statement this afternoon but I hope that tomorrow morning the leader of Fianna Fáil in this House will apologise for her party and her party's disgusting behaviour around this event.
On many occasions we have listened to debates in this House about the importance of broadband in rural Ireland. I have deep concerns about what has happened in recent weeks, which caused the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to resign, and the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, organised a dinner. He is the Minister of State with special responsibility for trade. It is going to be very difficult in rural Ireland if the broadband plan collapses – and I sincerely hope it does not – for trade, employment, business and the digital single market. That is how important broadband is for rural Ireland. I second Senator Ó Riordáin’s request that the Minister of State come to this House and make a statement. It would be opportune that it be done and that we hear the Minister of State's version of events. It would also be good for us to have that discussion to clear the air. I ask the Leader to facilitate the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, coming to make a statement to this House.
In respect of events in the past week, particularly the budget, over the past four to five years there has been a growth in employment and a resulting inflow to the Exchequer. There are benefits for every taxpayer. I have done an analysis of a married couple with two children and one earner with an income of €50,000, and find their net gain through reduction in income tax is €40 per week, compared with 2015. That is €2,000 less income tax per year as a direct result of good economic management by the Ministers, Government and the Taoiseach.
We face a challenging time with regard to Brexit. There are many major decisions to be made in the next few weeks. We all have a contribution to make. We should have a debate in this House on Brexit and get all the relevant information. It is not a question of this country alone but the entire island of Ireland.
As a part of that we should have a debate about our colleagues in Sinn Féin and their refusal to take their seats in Westminster. This is a crucial time for the island of Ireland, and Sinn Féin can have an influence on the decision that will be made-----
The Senator's party should stand in the Six Counties. It would be very welcome.
-----on how we go forward as an island. A very relevant section of that debate is the fact that we want to have a united Ireland, and we should work towards that. It is important, now more than ever, that we do not become more divided. If Brexit goes the way some UK politicians want, that is exactly what will happen. Sinn Féin could play a part in making sure that division does not arise. We should have that debate in this House.
Many people where I come from, and I suspect many others around the country, feel a great deal of sympathy for former Minister, Deputy Naughten. While we all understand the importance of correct procedures and scrupulousness when it comes to procurement, it is clear to me that the former Minister was very keen to pursue an important policy objective, namely, to deal with the scandal of the absence of sufficient broadband across our country, and in rural areas in particular. I believe he should be commended on that.
I want to raise an issue that also arose last month concerning the number of arrests for drink-driving. In September it was reported that there was a discrepancy between the figures issued by An Garda Síochána and those released by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. We all know how important information is for good policy decisions. During discussions on the recent Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, made a number of claims about the connection between accidents and deaths caused by drivers with a certain level of alcohol in their system, which provoked some debate. In May 2017 Deputy Tóibín submitted a parliamentary question to the Department of Justice and Equality about drink-driving arrest statistics. Incredibly, it took 16 months for the Department to reply, which raises a whole other issue. The reply showed a discrepancy of almost 15,000 arrests between Garda figures and CSO figures for the offence of drink-driving over the past ten or so years.
Did the Senator say there was a discrepancy of 15,000 between the two?
I understand the discrepancy was 15,000, but I will come back to the Leader on that. This revelation follows a far more serious discrepancy that emerged last year, when it was revealed that 89 homicides were not included in official statistics for a 14-year period due to what was called a process issue. The IT professionals investigating the matter felt intimidated and stonewalled by Garda officials when the red flag was raised on that matter.
Another strange feature of the more recent figures was that there was no breakdown available on the gender and age of those involved. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, said that this was because the collation of such data would require the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of Garda time. I do not pretend to be an IT expert, or an expert on statistics or the intricacies of the PULSE system, but if details of crimes and arrests are being placed on the Garda IT system, the addition of gender and date of birth of those arrested would not be particularly difficult information to find. As every citizen who interacts with a State agency in any way has his or her gender and date of birth recorded, it seems odd that a Garda system has no capacity to compile these details given the serious matters within its remit.
The Senator is in injury time.
I would be grateful if we could have an interaction with the Minister on this issue to establish what is being done to look at these discrepancies. We need to be precise about the discrepancies, what has caused them and what is being done to make sure they do not arise again. Can we be sure that in future, the Oireachtas will make fully informed policy decisions based on accurate and detailed information, which is obviously crucial to the process?
I want to join in the sentiments expressed about Deputy Fitzgerald. At the time of her resignation, Deputy Micheál Martin dismissed her acquiescence and incuriosity on the matter, while Deputy McDonald called it a conspiracy. Mr. Justice Charleton quite rightly confirmed that her evidence was an honest appraisal of the situation and a reflection of a busy life, which I am sure many of us can relate to. Throughout her career, Deputy Fitzgerald has been a woman of the highest integrity and responsibility. The report found that she was selfless in resigning. It is clear that due process was not afforded to her in this case. She has had an exemplary record when it comes to whistleblowers, which is an irony of the situation.
It would be more appropriate for those who hounded her from office, whether with spurious claims in the Dáil or in public, to acknowledge the fact that she has been fully exonerated by the tribunal. Genuine and sincere apologies are needed and awaited.
I join Senator Gavan in calling for the Tánaiste and Minister Foreign Affairs and Trade to update the House on Brexit. I know it is difficult because the situation is changing on a day-to-day and hour-by-hour basis but it would be helpful if he would come in next week and update us on the current situation. This is a very grave matter for the entire island.
I join Senator Leyden in paying tribute to the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. I have always found the Deputy to be very helpful when I have approached him. Whenever he was asked to come to his House, even at short notice, he did so. I pay tribute to him and his family and I welcome the appointment of a former colleague of ours, Deputy McHugh, as Minister for Education and Skills.
I welcome the publication of the Charleton report and I welcome the fact that the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was vindicated by it. We should not lose sight of the fact that the real victims of this situation were sergeant Maurice McCabe, his wife and his family.
I join others in welcoming the Charleton report. I remember the night of the debate in this House when Deputy Fitzgerald sat in the Minister's seat. I described the way she was being treated as "scurrilous" but I was booed by certain elements. I could see it for what it was. It became a political melee in which the deputy Prime Minister of our country was hounded out of office. If we believe that was right and appropriate, politics is not being served. The political establishment and other individuals involved in politics need to have a good look at themselves and at what happened in order to ensure that it does not happen to anybody else, either here or in the Lower House. People have to be afforded due process and all that was asked for by people on the Government side at the time was to allow the Charleton tribunal to do its work, with the then Tánaiste to be judged on the basis of its findings. The latter was not allowed and that was not good enough for me. What happened was, and continues to be, a blight on our political landscape. In order to restore some element of fairness and proportionality, apologies should be made. Nobody can force anybody to apologise but when a person gets something wrong, the decent thing to do is to say "Sorry". We expect children to do that and I expect it will happen in this case when the people concerned reflect on their positions.
I sympathise with Deputy Denis Naughten. I met him in my first week in UCD 25 years ago and from that day to this I have found him to be a decent person. Notwithstanding all of that, new Ministers have been promoted and I wish them well. It is an important day for them and their families. Perhaps we could invite the new Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to the House for a debate on education and the new Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, Deputy Canney, for a debate on rural regeneration in due course. I would say that both would like to facilitate us.
We will now move on. I hope calm will be restored and that the Government will get on with the job of running the country.
I am absolutely delighted for Sergeant Maurice McCabe. I always believed, from the first day I heard his story recounted, he was totally innocent. I am delighted he can now move on with his life.
I also welcome the Charleton report. It is excellent. I agree with Senator Diarmuid Wilson on the victims left behind at times like this, including Maurice McCabe. The former Minister was also in the victim category, although not at the same level. It was very interesting for me to note how women are capable of rounding on other women and bringing them down. I found that fascinating, bearing in mind the great feminist tradition we are always shouting about around these Houses. I refer to what women are capable of doing to other women. Apologies are needed in this regard.
I would like to find out whether Deputy Richard Bruton, who was Minister for Education and Skills and who is now Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, will come to the House to give us his opinion on the post offices. Just because there is a new Minister does not mean the issues go away. I would like to know what the Minister feels about the post offices and how he intends to pursue the matter. How many more post offices are to close? Does the Minister agree those that have closed should have closed? Does he agree with how they were closed? What were the reasons for closure? The issue has not gone away.
I suggest to the Leas-Chathaoirleach that Senators who call Deputies criminals are out of order, especially when they are not criminals. I was in my room listening to proceedings when I heard Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin call Deputy Michael Lowry a criminal three or four times. We all know Deputy Lowry's position on tax and business. It has been well documented in the press and courts. The Senator is completely wide of the mark to call the Deputy a criminal. That is a very loaded word. Deputy Lowry deserves an apology. The Senator's statement was appalling. It is the weakest of arguments to call other people names. Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin stood up here and called the President of the United States of America a fascist. From my knowledge and reading of history, that term was confined to people who had done worldwide murderous damage. It is appalling that Senators would come in here and call Deputies, of whatever party, names that are outside the language we should be using. It weakens a Senator's argument. If he or she wants to argue about something, he or she should argue the issue and not call a Deputy names. I am appalled that Senator Ó Ríordáin was not put out of the House for doing what he did. I am not an apologist for the behaviour of anybody but I do not want to be part of a Seanad in which people are being called criminals and fascists.
That is the best statement Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell ever made in the House.
Order, please. I asked Senator Ó Ríordáin to tone down his language. I did not-----
It is not a case of toning down.
Hold on, I am not calling Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell back. I am going to give an explanation and I ask the Senator to obey the Chair. I asked Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to tone down his language. I did not like it. Deputy Lowry was convicted of an offence in the criminal court. I am not going to say he is a criminal. I did not like the language and I asked Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin it down. I am not getting into tax offences here. That is the situation.
I call on the Leader to respond.
I thank the 16 Members of the House who contributed on the Order of Business. The language and tone we use are important.
What I do not like, and which is becoming part of the daily discourse of politics, is looking for a head or political scalp. In our use of language, we must always be mindful of where we are and what we do in our profession. I would never come into this House to seek a head or the resignation of anybody.
It is important to provide context that this afternoon in the Dáíl the Taoiseach was asked about the situation relating to the national broadband strategy and the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. We should not prejudge anybody or anything.
Deputy Denis Naughten was prejudged.
Senators and Members of the Lower House were wrong in prejudging the Charleton tribunal and the role of the then Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald. The Charleton report was mentioned by Senators Norris, Conway, Noone, Wilson, Lombard and Marie-Louise O'Donnell. We all accept that the victims in this are Sergeant Maurice McCabe and his family, in recognition of which the Charleton tribunal was established to allow for all the facts to emerge. It is my intention to arrange a debate on the Charleton report in due course. It is important to recognise that iar Tánaiste and iar Aire, Deputy Fitzgerald, selflessly resigned rather than bring down the Government or cause a general election. The Charleton report is there for all to see, and I welcome its publication. I commend Mr. Justice Charleton on his commentary. All of us, as practising politicians, should read his report because it contains messages for us and for the media.
The national broadband plan was raised by a number of Senators this afternoon. The Taoiseach and the Government are committed to the delivery of the plan. As a Government, we are determined to see it implemented. The tender process is at its final stage and the Taoiseach has made it clear that Mr. Peter Smith, the independent process auditor for the national broadband programme, will compile a report on whether the process was compromised. Let us await that report before we again rush to judgment. I remind some Senators that they were wrong on Charleton, wrong on Fine Gael getting the country back to work and wrong on the stabilisation of our national finances. They should not be wrong again. Mr. Smith must be given a chance to revert with a report.
I join other Senators in commending the former Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, on his work and I thank him for it. He has given a lifetime of service to the people of Roscommon. As head of Government, the Taoiseach has an obligation to ask questions of all Ministers, which he did, and in due course the Deputy offered his resignation. Rather than rush to judgment today, let us be temperate in our remarks.
In response to Senator Ó Ríordáín, I concur with the Taoiseach when he made clear that it was unwise of the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to pass on the invitation in this case. The key point is that the Minister of State had no involvement with the national broadband plan. He did not organise the meeting; he merely passed on the invitation. As the Taoiseach said, this is not a resigning matter, and he has spoken to the Minister of State about it. The Minister of State has responsibility for small and medium enterprise. He has an obligation and duty to meet with a wide variety of business interests to bring business to Ireland. He has no role, however, in respect of the national broadband plan, its roll-out or its procurement. Under the Constitution, the Government is not accountable to Seanad Éireann but rather to the Dáíl. I would be happy to make arrangements for statements on the national broadband plan in due course.
I fully concur with Senator Ardagh on the issue of judicial sentencing. She is 100% correct; there needs to be a national debate about the type of sentencing, the minimum sentencing and the way in which sentencing is given, notwithstanding the independency of the Judiciary, a matter on which the Leas-Chathaoirleach ruled.
Sometimes sentences administered for some crimes beggar belief. We need to have that conversation. I know it is being examined and we will have that debate in due course. I agree with Senator Ardagh, however, on that point. I join with her in commending St. James's Hospital on its digitisation programme.
Senators Gavan, Colm Burke, Leyden and Wilson raised the issue of Brexit. Senator Wilson got it right in that it is changing at a rate with which it is hard to keep up. Perhaps the UK Government and UK Parliament do not know what their left or right hands are doing. What is important is that the Government's position is quite clear. We want the negotiations to succeed. However, this will only be possible with agreement on a legally robust backstop to apply in all circumstances which will be set out clearly in the withdrawal agreement. The Government and the EU have been clear since the beginning of the process that the outcome must include the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The Tánaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has been clear on this. I commend him and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on the way they have articulated and advocated across the EU, on behalf of the Irish people, that Ireland's position on the backstop remains clear. While our preference is still for an overall EU-UK relationship which would resolve the issues in question, it remains essential that a backstop is agreed which provides certainty that a hard border would be avoided in all circumstances. All of us who wear the green of Ireland, North and South, will recognise the importance and the centrality of what the Government is trying to achieve.
I will come back to Senator Gavan on the position of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. I join with Members in welcoming the new members of the Government and congratulate them on their appointments. I thank the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, for his leadership in education and I wish the new Minister, Deputy McHugh, every success in the Department. I welcome back Deputy Canney as Minister of State, a very fine gentleman. I wish every success to the new Chief Whip, Deputy Kyne. I am sure they will all work together to ensure the cohesiveness of the Government for the foreseeable future.
The issue of climate change raised by Senator Grace O'Sullivan is important. As I have said repeatedly, it is the global challenge for our generation, as well as the next. The Minister with responsibility for this issue, Deputy Bruton, is committed to long-term plans to tackle climate change, not just short-term, knee-jerk reactions. In the coming months, we will see strong debates with the Minister on this matter. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill is on the Order Paper and we will see its reintroduction at a later time.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of school places in his own area of Dublin. It is an important issue. The Department of Education and Skills has a capital expenditure programme of €196 million. It might be more advisable for the Senator to raise this as a Commencement matter.
I join with Senator Leyden in commending RTÉ, especially Ryan Tubridy, on last Friday night's "The Late Late Show". It was a fine production and showcased what is good about Ireland. The Senator is correct that the Irish have made a significant contribution in the United Kingdom from many different perspectives. I commend all who made and continue to make a contribution. We all know of people, including many from our own families, who left on emigrant ships and planes to go across the water and made a strong contribution to the United Kingdom's health service, education and many other sectors. We all remember the term "Dagenham Yanks" with great affection. Today, one of the Ford Motor Company's top executives spoke about the importance of having a deal for Brexit. I commend Senator Leyden for raising the matter of "The Late Late Show".
Senator McFadden referred to people being asked to pay in order to view rental accommodation. That is outrageous and wrong and it should not happen. No landlord should ask a prospective tenant to pay to view a property.
Senator Norris referred to the disappearance and alleged murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has visited Saudi Arabia. All of us want answers and, hopefully, the safe return of the journalist in question. It is unacceptable that human rights are being violated and that it is a case of economics versus human rights. There should be no competition between the two. I hope the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will take the matter up at the highest level.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the growth in employment. The figure he mentioned should be etched on all our memories, namely, many people are paying €2,000 less in taxes since 2015. That is a tremendous reversal of the economic fortunes of our country. The Senator made his point in the context of our friends in Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. We all want to see the return of power-sharing. I am of the view that the abstentionist policy is wrong. Sinn Féin changed its policy in respect of the Houses of the Oireachtas and it should give consideration to changing its policy regarding Westminster.
Fine Gael should come up and challenge us.
It is not a question of challenging.
Fine Gael should become a 32-county party.
It is not a question of challenging. The question is-----
Why should those in Fine Gael restrict themselves to the Twenty-six Counties? They can see to it that Fine Gael becomes a 32-county party. They can do it.
As an absolute republican, I would love to see Sinn Féin take its seats in Westminster where, as Senator Colm Burke rightly stated, it could change the course of events and have a key, positive influence. That was the point the Senator was making.
That is rubbish. It is just drivel.
We cannot have any debate now. The Leader, without interruption.
Senator Mullen referred to the discrepancies between Garda figures and those of the CSO. I suggest that he table a Commencement matter on the issue, which is very serious. We cannot allow people to drink and drive and should condemn those who do so from the highest rooftop. Last week, we saw the passage of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is important that we allow An Garda Síochána to continue to be vigilant with regard to drink-driving. The issue of the discrepancies would be best served by the Senator tabling a Commencement matter.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell asked that the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment come before the House to discuss the closure of post offices. I would be happy to invite the new Minister to come here.
I welcome the eminent obstetrician from Tralee, Dr. Mary McCaffrey, who is in the Public Gallery, and thank her for being here. She is a friend of many of us in the House and I thank her for her good work.