The Order of Business is No. 1, Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and adjourned at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
If it is concluded, will we take some other business?
After more than 41 hours of debate I would certainly love to see if we could conclude the debate on Committee Stage and have the Bill passed and move on to something else. That would be a wonderful gift. It is in the Senator's hands.
We will see how it goes.
As the Senator knows, we are in a minority.
He is one of 60 Members.
It is also in the hands of Senators Humphreys and Bacik. In a spirit of good will-----
I dare say it is also in the hands of Senator McDowell.
Perhaps the Leader might endeavour to have it finished by Christmas.
All Senators will be able to comment on the proposals made by the Leader.
Clearly, we are all on tenterhooks regarding the Brexit negotiations and how the deal will unfold. As things are moving at pace across the water in the United Kingdom, at this point it is hard to figure out exactly where it will land. Having had a cursory look at the text, on the face of it, it seems to be a very good deal for Ireland. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste should be commended on the work put in so far.
Obviously, we need to ensure the deal can be brought home. There is no point in celebrating until we see that it can be properly implemented and is agreed to by our neighbours across the water. I will leave it at that for now.
The second item I wish to raise affects a lot of senior citizens. They are receiving scam calls from international numbers. If they answer them, they are charged up to €20. They are also receiving scam calls from Irish numbers. Callers purport to be representatives of Eir or other telecommunications companies and tell them that the Internet is down. They are instructed to plug in and give their bank codes. Many are taken in and scammed out of their hard-earned money. We need to do a lot more from a consumer protection point of view. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment needs to urge the Commission for Communications Regulation to be a little more proactive. One suggestion I have heard is that when someone rings an international or premium number, he or she should be alerted to the fact that he or she is ringing such a number before being connected. We need to send the message that phone scamming is a huge issue and make sure people are vigilant and aware of it. It is very easy to be a victim. Even the wiliest of people are falling victim to it.
The third item I wish to raise concerns home help hours. It is an issue I have raised in the house before. There are 6,200 older people across the country waiting urgently for a home help. In certain parts of the country, including County Kerry, north Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary, no one is waiting and it is very easy to receive support. However, in Galway, north County Dublin and other parts of the country there are long waiting lists. In Galway alone there are 674 people waiting. This clearly shows that there is a disparity. Where someone is living is a factor in whether he or she will have the home help he or she needs. It has been described as a postcode lottery. Everyone throughout the country should receive the same service, no matter where he or she lives.
I do not think it is fair that people who live in a certain area get a better service and more home help hours. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to address this matter, on which I look forward to having a debate.
For the first time, yesterday evening we saw the proposed Brexit deal between the EU and the British Government. Sinn Féin rightly highlighted the danger posed to this tentative deal by the extreme Brexiteers in the Tory party and the DUP. I acknowledge that the deal agreed by the British Cabinet yesterday is one that mitigates against the worst aspects of Brexit but there are other issues to be ironed out and matters that need to be clarified. We will all be busy this weekend with the 500 plus pages examining the detail of the deal.
Some of the issues can be addressed by the Government, and also by the Oireachtas, in particular issues relating to rights and representation. Some of those concerns were raised with the Government this morning by my party vice president, Michelle O'Neill, who was part of a delegation of parties representing the pro-remain majority in the North. The four parties the Taoiseach met this morning represent the majority view of citizens in the North. The DUP does not, and that is a fact. DUP representatives have been using the most incendiary, rash and ostentatious rhetoric in the past 48 hours, but ordinary citizens in the North, whether republican, nationalist, unionist or otherwise, recognise that Brexit is not good and they want a deal that protects their livelihood and future. Sinn Féin speaks for all of the communities on this.
Prime Minister May said the advice of the British Attorney General in respect of the withdrawal agreement would be made available to the House of Commons today. I presume the Government will also have legal advice, whether from the European Commission or the Attorney General. That should be made available in order that we can get the fullest picture possible of what is on the table. I very much look forward to having a debate in this House with the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and going through some more of the detail as it emerges.
I acknowledge all of those who have been involved in the deal to date given that it appears to have protected the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement, and the work done by the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, with our representatives. From day one we said there needed to be special status for the North within the EU. Let us work together to do everything we possibly can to make it happen.
Could I formally move an amendment to the Order of Business,"That No. 14 be taken before No. 1 next Wednesday"?
Everybody is concerned at what is happening in the House of Commons today. It has been worrying. Since yesterday evening everybody has been talking about this issue. I compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade before the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney. I also compliment Deputies Lisa Chambers and Micheál Martin-----
Is Deputy Humphreys missing anybody?
-----who have put their shoulders to the wheel and have worked extremely hard. My party leader, Deputy Howlin, has travelled to London on numerous occasions to talk to our colleagues in the British Labour Party. I hope he can encourage them to see sense and support this deal. No stone has been left unturned in the efforts to achieve a deal. I inform Senator Mac Lochlainn that I have purposely left somebody out, because I believe Sinn Féin could have played a stronger part but it did not.
That is absolute nonsense.
That is the honest truth.
There is a joint group involving the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Green Party and the Alliance Party.
I am talking about the parties in this House.
They have made a stand.
I will call on Senator Mac Lochlainn and he will have his say.
They are standing up for the rights of the people in the North.
I call for order.
The parties in this House have been working extremely hard.
Senator Humphreys is taking a sectarian approach.
I call for order. Senator Humphreys should be allowed to speak.
He is being nakedly sectarian.
I call for order.
They have been working extremely hard in the interests of the Thirty-two Counties of this country.
That is nakedly sectarian.
Unfortunately, not all have taken on the responsibilities and roles they should have played. I am sorry that did not happen because I would have liked to see all parties in this State work together for the best outcome for the Thirty-two Counties, and the best outcome for the UK and for Europe, but that has not happened.
I will briefly turn to one item that is within our control, namely, the housing crisis. In Ringsend there is a site called Poolbeg West, which has the potential to provide 3,500 units but it has been delayed over and over again. Negotiations remain to be concluded on the purchase of 900 units for social and affordable housing and, unfortunately, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has not played its part. There is no excuse for the Department not to play its part in the middle of a housing crisis. This is not a planning matter, it is a question of negotiations on the number of units to be purchased. That is delaying a decision of An Bord Pleanála. There is a written agreement for the strategic development zone, SDZ, in Dublin City Council and there is a commercial agreement in regard to it. When he was Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, called it a gentlemen's agreement. He promised us we would see cranes and JCBs on the site in 2017 but there has not been any progress. It is a crying shame and a resolution is urgently needed. Could the Leader arrange that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would attend and explain the lack of movement in the provision of 3,500 units? We hear over and over that there is a supply issue but here is an opportunity to create supply. I will respect the Chair and finish on this point, which unfortunately the Minister did not do yesterday.
That reference is not necessary.
That is not fair.
I make these remarks today as a Border representative, as somebody from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, who lives close to the Border where we have many ties of kinship north of the Border. I wish to publicly appeal through this House to our Northern friends right across the divide, who are hard-headed, shrewd business people with a particular business culture, to look twice at this agreement before they decide to reject it. I ask them to look at the fact that their constitutional position is not threatened. There is no threat to the integrity of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. There is a legal acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement, which ultimately means there must be a popular mandate to undo the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
First, there is no threat. Nothing changes there and nothing will change there. Second, the deal gives the people of Northern Ireland access to the EU and to every benefit the EU confers, bearing in mind that the North voted to remain. It gives them access to the customs union, to trade and to all the benefits. Third, it gives them unfettered access to UK markets in a post-Brexit situation. It would be an economic bonanza for Northern Ireland in that it would leave it the best of both worlds and put it into a solvent position. Our hard-headed and good friends in Ulster will have to look at this question. I sincerely appeal to them to do that. They should bear in mind that the alternative means an impoverishment of Ulster, which ultimately will impoverish the existing Northern Ireland State and will make its hinterland poor because it will lower people's capacity to buy, trade and do business with the Republic. That is a very serious implication also.
My basic point is that people in Northern Ireland should look twice at the deal and consider accepting it. I appeal to all sides in Northern Ireland to get the Assembly up and running again because if there is anything that highlights that lacuna and the need for a domestic administration in Northern Ireland it is the current goings on.
The people of Northern Ireland should view this from the perspective of their own interests. They should realise there is no threat to their future and that this gives them the best of all worlds.
We experienced euphoria last night on the announcement by Prime Minister, Theresa May, that a majority in her Cabinet backed the Brexit deal with the European Union. People were very happy with the deal and it is very satisfactory as far as Ireland and Britain are concerned. The UK got a tremendous deal. As I watched a live broadcast from the House of Commons this morning, it became clear that the situation is extremely grave. I could not be optimistic after watching and hearing the contributions and in light of the resignation of Dominic Raab, the Minister assigned to the negotiation of Brexit.
That having been said, we should be calm in the approach we take and not claim too much credit for this outcome. We compliment Mr. Barnier representing the 27 member states and the negotiators from the United Kingdom. The solution, which I fully support, involves an agreement with the UK on Ireland, free trade, etc. I am afraid the position looks very serious at the moment. Unfortunately, when the Prime Minister attends the European Council meeting of Heads of State on 25 November, she may not have the support of the majority of the House of Commons. This will probably lead to her replacement, followed by a general election and the new British Government, whoever that will be, will be back to the drawing board. I hope the government returned to the British Parliament, whether led by the Labour Party or another party, will have a clear majority and will be in a position to negotiate. It is extraordinarily difficult for the Prime Minister to find that the level of disloyalty among Tory backbenchers and in her government makes her position practically untenable. I regret having to make that observation. As far as a I can see, a new referendum will not be held but there may be a change of Government.
The question as to whether the seven Sinn Féin MPs take up their seats in the House of Commons is fairly irrelevant.
They will not be able to swing the numbers.
Tá an t-am istigh anois.
Sinn Féin gave a commitment to the electorate and has stood by that commitment for more than 100 years. I do not think it has any bearing on the situation. Furthermore, the presence of Sinn Féin MPs would create more division-----
I appreciate that comment.
-----and give Tory MPs another excuse to say they would not be held to ransom by Sinn Féin Members of the House of Commons. We need calm heads and we cannot take too much credit here for the deal. There were premature congratulations being offered here in the past 24 hours.
To respond to the previous contribution, the Government, specifically the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, have been very low key about this, and purposely so, to allow room and space for those who have difficult decisions ahead of them. I welcome the British Cabinet's decision but I fully realise the difficulties that lie ahead.
I had a short meeting this morning with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and I am delighted that letters will issue to more than 79,000 pensioners to inform them that they will receive a correction to their income, which was adversely affected by changes in the 2012 Act. I have raised this issue numerous times and I welcome this development. There will also be back pay to March last.
I raise another issue that I have also raised several times previously. It relates to rural planning and a ruling by the European Court of Justice that a local-only rule introduced in Flanders was illegal and no longer pertinent or allowed. I have called several times for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to inform the House what his plans are for new directions and guidelines on this matter to be issued to local authorities. Many people who are in the middle of a planning application or have just been granted planning permission are wondering whether their permission will stand up to legal scrutiny. They are in a kind of limbo. Should they go ahead and buy a house? Will a bank give them a mortgage to build the house for which they have been granted permission? Others who wish to return to the rural areas from which they come to keep their communities vibrant are still being subjected to the locals-only rule, which has been found to be illegal by the European Court of Justice. I ask the Leader to call the Minister in to the House so that he can clarify the situation, outline his plans to correct this matter and give us the guidelines as soon as possible. People's lives are on hold in the middle of a housing crisis.
I raise the decision to locate a direct provision centre in a hotel in Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula. This is one of the most northerly hotels in the entire island. The specific concern is that in recent days, the Irish Refugee Council has spoken out on this matter, pointing out that the refugees in question, some of whom are mothers with children, will be required to travel regularly to Dublin for a range of reasons. These include attending interviews with the International Protection Office and appeal hearings, renewing temporary residence certificates, meeting their lawyers and attending medical appointments.
As we know, adults in direct provision receive disposable income of €20 a week. How are they expected to travel from Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula? They will need to get a bus to Letterkenny, a connecting bus to Sligo and then a bus to Dublin. This must all be done in one day because there are issues around staying overnight. This is totally impractical and it shows once again the folly of this direct provision system. I have some knowledge of this because I chaired an Oireachtas committee that looked at direct provision for a sustained period. We visited centres and met families. These are people of many nationalities, languages and religions being located in rural areas. In this case, they will not be able to travel through the North because to do so would be a criminal offence. I have the privilege, as a citizen, of travelling from the Inishowen Peninsula through the Six Counties on my way to work. They will not have that privilege and will have to circumnavigate the land mass of the island. This is totally unacceptable and unfair to the refugees. This decision is also deeply unfair to the local community, with which there has been no consultation. We have 100 refugees moving to Moville in two weeks without community supports or additional resources being provided. The Minister stated on local radio that a friends of refugees group would be set up but no extra resources would be provided and no consultation has taken place. This is unfair to the local community and deeply unfair to the refugees and families who come here in the first place. Direct provision is a very bad system and it is getting worse. The all-party committee made recommendations and I have not seen any changes. The situation is getting worse.
I am pleased that agreement has been reached between the EU and UK negotiators. We sought to protect the peace process and Good Friday Agreement and maintain the common travel area and related benefits for Irish and British citizens. We have to ensure that we are at the place in Europe where we can protect jobs and the economy. The Republic of Ireland did not vote for or want Brexit.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May has been true to her word. She has worked extremely hard to keep all of the factions together and I hope in the coming weeks and months that we will get an agreement. We are working in a committed way with the UK Government.
My message to Ulster Unionists is that our approach was not in any way to threaten. It was merely to protect the Good Friday Agreement and everything that is included in it.
I thank again all of the other political parties. Worked as a team in the interests of our country and our citizens, both here and in Europe. A bad deal for the United Kingdom was a bad deal for Ireland and we are in a much better space today.
Today is also the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement which aimed to bring an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It gave the Irish Government an advisory role in Northern Ireland while confirming there would be no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland unless the majority of the people agreed to join the Republic. It did improve co-operation between the British and Irish Governments which was a key creation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is something we have to acknowledge today. Thirty three years ago we did not have those relationships. Those relationships have been built up in the past 33 years and the Leas-Chathaoirleach would know that the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly has members from all parties and we have to ensure those relationships are improved and enhanced and worked upon because now we need them more than ever. Today is a good day. However, I think the coming weeks will tell how good it is.
I take my lead from our leader, Senator Ardagh. The situation with Brexit is fraught at present and probably the less said the better. I agree with Senator Feighan that there has been a remarkable consensus of the main political parties in their approach to the important and sensitive issue, an issue which will define our time this term in the Seanad. I hope the Taoiseach will not regret his statement yesterday when he said that it was a good day to be in politics. I thought that was a bit previous and I thought it showed a little immaturity, which perhaps is a refreshing side of his nature.
The whole focus is now on Westminster. We can look and observe and hope but with the exception of Sinn Féin there is nobody in Ireland in a position to do anything practical about it. I urge Sinn Féin to reconsider its position on Westminster. In fairness to Sinn Féin, it has come a long way. It has come into these Houses and taken part in parliamentary democracy. It refused to do that for decades.
Sinn Féin now recognises the Garda force and that there is only one Army in the country. A bit of pragmatism would be a big help and those vital seven votes might be able to come into play. I would hate to see this deal being defeated by a margin of fewer than seven votes. There would be serious repercussions for the Sinn Féin Party if that were to occur.
May I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, could be invited to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss the situation in Aughinish Alumina on the Shannon Estuary. This is a significant employer, providing 480 jobs and is probably underpinning more than 2,000 support jobs. The main owner of the consortium that runs this project is a Russian oligarch, Mr. Oleg Deripaska. He is one of 24 people who was listed by the US as having interfered with their elections and is therefore blacklisted. There is a very serious threat hanging over imports of the products from Aughinish Alumina as long as he is a board member. Negotiations have been ongoing. The chairman of that group, Lord Barker of Battle, announced that the group was in serious negotiations for Mr. Deripaska to reduce his holding.
The Senator knows we should not be identifying anybody.
They had been attempting to facilitate a withdrawal from hands-on involvement by Mr. Deripaska. It looked as if it would be okay but the US Treasury Secretary announced yesterday that he is not prepared to look at the issue until January 2019. That is a sword of Damocles hanging over a significant project. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to intervene and come to this Chamber as soon as possible.
I second the proposal from Senator Humphreys regarding the Labour Party Private Members' Bill, No. 14 on the Order Paper, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill 2018.
I join in commending the fact that we have some agreement on Brexit, with the strong proviso that we are already seeing resignations from the British Cabinet. There is serious concern about whether it will pass the House of Commons.
It is great day for resigning.
I ask Senator Norris not to be interrupting his colleagues.
However, it does mark a real achievement by the Irish Government and Irish negotiators and is a sign of the solidarity of the other member states of the EU who have stood by the principle of the backstop. The case for a people's vote on a second referendum in Britain has become much stronger because of the unlikelihood of this agreement passing. I echo the comments of my colleagues who have pointed out that it would be very helpful from an Irish perspective to have the Stormont institutions up and running and to have Sinn Féin members taking their seats in Westminster because that would enable a much stronger voice in terms of Irish interests to be heard in Britain. That is really important.
Let me raise the recent controversy around reports of proceedings in a rape trial that has been concluded. Without speaking in any way about the trial, may I bring it to the Leader's attention that Tom O'Malley, a leading expert from the National University of Ireland, Galway, is currently chairing a review commissioned by the Minister for Justice and Equality on practice and procedure in the trial of rape and sex offences. That review is due to conclude at the end of December.
I welcome the holding of a debate in the Seanad on the recommendations of that review because one of the considerations that I am sure the reviewers will take on board is the need to challenge sexist assumptions and stereotypes that still tend to be made in the conduct of rape trials and to ensure that our laws and practices do not support such stereotypes and such outdated views. That is an important point in the wake of that controversy.
Today almost all Members will be talking about Brexit. I pay credit to Michel Barnier and his team, the Government, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who was in the Seanad last week for statements on Brexit, the Taoiseach and the representatives of all the parties, including Deputies Michael Martin, Chambers and Donnelly from my party. Senator Ned O'Sullivan recently took over the foreign affairs brief in the Seanad but I am not sure how much credit I can give him for this one just yet. I am sure he will continue to play his role as did Senator Mark Daly before him.
It is important that we pay credit for what has been achieved but acknowledge that, unfortunately, at this stage it is a draft text. It is a positive draft text from the Irish perspective, from the perspective of the Good Friday Agreement and the Border but there is a lot of work to do in Westminster before it goes anywhere, as Senator Ned O'Sullivan and others have pointed out. Ministers are resigning, including a junior Minister whom I have to confess I never heard of. That is my fault but I never heard of the junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office who resigned this morning until he resigned. I am glad to see that my colleague who is much closer to the Border than I am had never heard of him either.
There are definitely issues going on in Westminster. Theresa May has tried to square the circle as best she could. She has tried to bring it to a place that recognises Ireland, the Border and the Good Friday Agreement. I hope enough members of her party, and MPs generally, can see that the alternative to this agreement is either a no deal or as they say, "No Brexit". We might prefer a "No Brexit", but from the Brexiteers' point of view, they want something and from the Remainers' point of view, they want something. It is a compromise. There always will be compromise.
It is probably the best deal that could be struck and I hope it gets through. I wish everybody well. The Leas-Chathaoirleach, I and others were in Westminster and Downing Street only last month. I think they do understand our position and have been listening to our position as has the EU. It is a credit to the Irish Civil Service. Mr. Rory Montgomery is in a very senior position but many people in that division have been, and are, working extremely hard. The Irish ambassador to the UK and the British ambassador to Ireland have been working to try to get a deal that satisfies Ireland as best they can. I pay tribute to those who have got this far and hope beyond hope. Perhaps I will light a candle and pray that we can get it across the line. The people in Westminster will appreciate that the deal is not perfect. It was never going to be perfect but it is probably the best that can be achieved to satisfy everybody's outcomes. I wish it well.
Given the day that is in it I believe it is important that I should echo the comments made by several Members regarding the Brexit negotiations and where we have moved in recent weeks. Any Brexit is a bad Brexit for Ireland but the deal we managed to hammer out in the past six or eight months represents an important step forward. Yesterday was an important day for us as a State and as a society.
I wish to pay tribute in particular to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, for their diligent work to ensure we got this far with the Brexit talks. It is a draft text but it is a significant draft text. It hits every core point that we looked for. It solves most of those issues. In fact, it solves all those issues. That is important. This was a complicated and important negotiation, probably the most important negotiation since we entered the European Union in 1973. We need to acknowledge that.
It is important that we can, if possible, ensure the House of Commons can work to ensure this text gets passed at some stage. In that sense Sinn Féin has an important role to play. Sinn Féin members are elected to that Parliament and there is a duty and responsibility on them now, on a once-off occasion, do what they need to do to ensure this deal is safe. If they do not, they will erode the entire principle of what we are trying to do.
Does Senator Lombard think seven votes will be the difference?
It could be one vote.
Hundreds are against it.
It could be one vote. That is the important thing.
The speaker, without interruption, please.
This is an important vote for Ireland. It is one of the most important votes we could argue in 100 years. If we lost it by one vote, it would be a tragedy. There is a responsibility on those-----
That is absolute nonsense. At issue is seven votes. Any objective analysis would conclude that is nonsense, never mind the fact that people in the North voted against it democratically.
I am sorry, Senator. I cannot allow interruptions.
I must have hit a nerve, because Sinn Féin people do not like hearing the truth. This is about one vote.
As a democrat Senator Lombard should respect the view of the nationalist people of the North.
Senator, you have had your opportunity.
This is about ensuring that we can get this deal. If this deal fails by one vote, it is the responsibility of someone.
It would never happen. That is nonsense. This analysis is deeply dishonest.
You have had your opportunity, Senator.
People should know better – these are people who I respect in every other way.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, this is absolutely outrageous. I have the floor and I cannot even speak because I am speaking the truth but the Senator does not want to hear the truth.
You have the floor, Senator Lombard.
It is exciting but not very edifying for the young people in the Gallery. I am sure they are enjoying it enormously.
When a person speaks nonsense, he should be challenged. That is the way of things.
This is about trying to ensure that we can get everyone on the same page. Obviously, Sinn Féin does not want to get on the same page. Sinn Féin wants to play small-time politics instead of putting the national question first. That is a real issue.
Senator Lombard is talking nonsense.
We have really seen what they are about this morning. They will talk the talk but they will not walk the walk, and that is pitiful. In fact, it is disgraceful.
That is absolute nonsense. No objective analysis supports that.
I have to say I agree with my Sinn Féin colleague. It is a comprehensive mess. Everyone is against it. They have even managed to unify the Johnson family. There was old grandpa Johnson who did not know. There was Boris who was first for "Remain" and then for "Leave". Then, there is Jo, his younger brother, who has always been "Remain". We have a unified Johnson family – hurray - and they are all against it. Everyone is against it.
The UK Cabinet is leaking like a sinking ship. UK Cabinet Ministers are walking away from everything. We know the facts of the opinion polls. We hear a good deal about the people's voice and the voice of the people. It is a kind of Hitlerian chant, but we know now that the people have changed their minds. The opinion polls show that utterly clearly. They have changed their minds. What is the voice of the people? The leavers – the Brexiteers – are afraid of the voice of the people. That is why they do not want a second referendum. I will say one thing: there is a second referendum coming. This is going to go down the drain. They are all going to vote against, and that is a bloody good thing. Let us have a second referendum. The tragedy is that we will have a much-weakened Britain as a member of the European Community. It will never regain its status.
The second thing I wish to raise is the fact that myself and Senator Bacik received on Thursday a notice of the schedule of business. It said clearly that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was being taken at 2 p.m. after the Greyhound Racing Bill.
It is. That has not changed at all.
Is it at 2 p.m.? The Leader said it was being taken immediately after.
No, it will be after the Greyhound Racing Bill.
It is to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
It is to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1. I want it at 2 p.m. I want it clearly set out that it will be at 2 p.m. I do not want it at 1.30 p.m. Senator Bacik and myself have guests and I am not going to leave them.
Then you had better propose an amendment to the Order of Business.
I am proposing that we take the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill at 2 p.m. as previously agreed. The Leader denied that we got this notice. I have it before me in black and white.
I will respond to that.
Correct me if I am wrong, Senator, but what you are proposing is that No. 1 be adjourned not later than 2 p.m. and that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill be taken then. Is that your proposal?
Yes. I am suggesting simply that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, regardless of anything else, not be taken until 2 p.m. That is quite clear.
Did Senator Norris go for lunch?
I have guests. We are entitled to have guests occasionally. The Leader would not know that, of course, because he is never here.
That is okay. We have the amendment.
The greyhounds will be in traps.
Thank you very much, Mr. Eastwood.
I wish to welcome the boys from Drimnagh Castle secondary school. They are welcome guests of Senator Ardagh.
I welcome the boys from the school to the House. I second Senator Norris's amendment to the Order of Business. We cannot have him discommoded during lunch.
I wish to join colleagues in welcoming the publication of the draft agreement between Britain and the European Union published yesterday. On the face of it it appears to be, as my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, has already stated, good for the Six Counties of Ulster that are currently governed by the United Kingdom. I fully endorse what Senator O'Reilly has said 100%. As a result, that can only be good news for the Border communities, especially the areas of Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim and Louth that I come from.
Like Senators O'Reilly, Mac Lochlainn and others in the House, having been born and reared on the Border I have seen at first hand the decimation caused to the region during the 30-odd years of the Troubles and beforehand. I welcome the draft agreement and the proposals relating to the backstop. However, I hope that we will be given an opportunity to scrutinise in minute detail all 585 pages of the agreement. Rightly, we are concerned about the backstop and about having no physical border on this island again. However, I do not think we should take our eyes off what else is in the draft agreement. I wish to caution against making decisions until we have examined it fully. I know my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, spent all of last night reading all those pages and has some concerns that he will be raising at a later date.
A lot done, but more to do.
I hope that logic will prevail in the British Parliament and that the sideshow taking place at the moment among some members of the UK Cabinet ceases. They seem to be resigning on an hourly basis to cause the greatest possible damage to the UK Prime Minister in the hope that the agreement will not get through the Parliament. I hope that common sense prevails and that it does get through at the end of the day if it is as good as it appears to be. I have not read the entire document, although I intend doing so.
I concur with previous speakers on the draft agreement that was launched yesterday. It is fair that we acknowledge the input of everyone involved from all parties and none from an Irish perspective in reaching this point. Unfortunately, the story is far from over and it is a very fluid situation. I wonder where this draft agreement will go. If I was a betting person, I would not put too much money on the British Prime Minister lasting much longer. I hope I will be proved wrong but I have concerns in that regard. There is a long way to go before this is over. We will discuss this subject in the House for many months and possibly years to come.
My other point concerns apprenticeships, an issue on which I came across a report recently. Unfortunately, Ireland is bottom of the European league table when it comes to apprenticeships in terms of the scale and diversity of apprenticeships on offer. Apprenticeships have always been the Cinderella of careers, which is very unfortunate. If we look at the scale of our problem with apprenticeships and the work that needs to be done, we can see that the statistics for the 2017-18 academic year are stark and highlight the gravity of the task that lies ahead. The total number of people in apprenticeships in that year stood at 14,871. The figure for enrolment in third level public institutions in the same academic year was 235,644. That shows the difficult task ahead of us.
I acknowledge the work that has been done on apprenticeships but, clearly, much more needs to be done. Female participation in apprenticeships last year was 2% compared with 50% in our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom. We need a large-scale public campaign to create awareness of apprenticeships. If I were seeking an ambassador or poster boy for apprenticeships for young people thinking about apprenticeships, I would look no further than Martin McVicar from Combilift in County Monaghan, where I live. If I mention Martin McVicar or Combilift, everyone knows who I am talking about. The Government could do worse than pick up the phone to Martin McVicar and ask him to be our ambassador or poster boy for apprenticeships. When we look at housing, we see the lack of skilled workers in construction. If we look at the hospitality sector, both hotels and restaurants, we see that much more needs to be done in this area.
I call on the Leader to respond.
I have been here for more than half an hour.
The Senator is a bit late.
My apologies, I did not see the Senator indicating.
One chairperson is enough. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to speak. My point is very simple and I will not delay the House. I have looked at the figures for broadband and spoken to a couple of people working at a high level in the telecommunications industry. Eir has the infrastructure in place and still owns and controls all the telegraph poles and the underground cabling and ducting laid the length and breadth of the country. The company has been bought and sold several times through various vehicles and the main shareholder is Mr. Xavier Niel, who is based in Paris. The prudent approach to the long-awaited roll-out of broadband would be to repurchase Eir. The company is valued at approximately €3 billion. Given some of the figures mentioned in connection with the roll-out of broadband, engaging with the owner of Eir would be well worth considering.
I thank the 16 Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Fourteen speakers mentioned Brexit, the most significant political issue of our time. As Senator Ned O'Sullivan correctly stated, it will be the defining moment of this Oireachtas. To update the House, it is my intention to have a debate on the Brexit deal next Thursday. I repeat that we will discuss the deal next Thursday, in case Senator Norris missed it the first time.
I never miss anything, particularly communications from the Leader's office, which I waved around in the air. It is physical proof.
The Taoiseach spoke to Prime Minister May this morning and offered his support. The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are committed, on behalf of both Governments, to working on the future EU-UK relationship and the Irish-UK relationship to ensure the backstop is never invoked. Despite some of the commentary and mean-spirited remarks made by some people, not necessarily in this House this morning, yesterday was a very good day for Ireland. It showed that the policy pursued at the beginning by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, was the correct one. It also showed that Michel Barnier is a man of his word and that he stuck with Ireland, as did the 26 other member states.
I want to make clear that the objective of the Government remains the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland. That objective was achieved yesterday. Whether we engage in partisan politics or not is immaterial. That was the Government's aim and I commend the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, along with our diplomats, on their tremendous work on behalf of the Irish people. I commend all parties for their consensus approach in wearing the green jersey.
Some Members' contributions this morning may have irked Senator Mac Lochlainn but we must remember that we are talking about the island of Ireland. We should all read Stephen Collins's article in The Irish Times this morning, which looked at Michael Collins and the treaty and the present-day analogy with Theresa May. All of us, North, South, east and west, have a duty to represent people and be responsible. With responsibility comes a requirement to make decisions. I encourage members of Sinn Féin to reflect on their responsibility with regard to the re-establishment of devolved government in Stormont and in the context of Brexit. This is not an unreasonable request given the precarious position in Westminster where we see the resignation of a minister or junior minister almost by the hour.
The focus today is on Westminster, as is appropriate, after which it will shift to 25 November and whether the agreement is passed in Westminster. I hope people will reflect politically on what this is about. There is no good Brexit deal for Ireland or the UK. Like Senator Norris, I hope there will be a second vote because the debate would then take place against the backdrop of the past two years, which have been chaotic and shambolic. A new referendum would be based on a more informed and honest debate, unlike the earlier one when people were duped.
The DUP should reflect on its position. What was achieved yesterday secures and cements the future of Northern Ireland, the North of our country, from an economic point of view and regarding further sovereignty. They must reflect on that because it avoids the hard border which they do not want. We should all look at this morning's words, not invoking the backstop. We will have a debate in the House next Thursday.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of scam or bogus calls. ComReg has asked people to be vigilant. I know many of us have been in contact with Eir, whose department of fraud has been investigating these calls. I agree with Senator Ardagh that there is a need for some type of safeguarding of people, whether it is through protection of data, mobile phone numbers or landline numbers. It is something that we need to pursue.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of home help hours. I draw her attention to the fact that in the budget announced last month, we saw home care supports grow from a base of €305 million in 2015 to €420 million today. That is 17 million home support hours being delivered to 50,500 people who are then able to live in their homes. I have always made the point and will again that we should review what home help hours are and what type of work is being carried out during them. We all support an increase in them. The Government is committed to having more people stay at home for longer.
I would be happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business from Senator Humphreys regarding No. 14. I am not familiar with the Ringsend issue that Senator Humphreys raised. He might receive a quicker response through a Commencement matter. We have requested the Minister to come to the House to debate it in the coming weeks, so perhaps the Senator can raise it then.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of the direct provision centre in Moville in County Donegal. I am not familiar with the situation the Senator is discussing. We had a debate about direct provision on the Order of Business yesterday, when it was raised by Senator Warfield. We have seen positive changes on foot of the McMahon report. We would all like to see the issue of direct provision addressed expeditiously. There have been changes to waiting times. There is a single application. I am not familiar with the issue Senator Mac Lochlainn raised because I am not involved in that area. I am not trying to give the Senator a soft answer but perhaps he will request a Commencement matter debate. If he wants, I will certainly ask the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, about that.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the 33rd anniversary of the Anglo-Irish agreement. I pay tribute to our iar-Thaoiseach and iar-Airí Gnóthaí Eachtracha, Garret FitzGerald, Peter Barry and Dick Spring, who is still alive, for their tremendous work on that important day in the history of our country. It was a stepping stone on the bridge. To be fair to both Dick Spring and Albert Reynolds, they used that as the building bridge again later on. I want to remember Garret FitzGerald and Peter Barry today and thank them for their patriotic service to our company.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of Aughinish Alumina. Someone raised the issue before of a member of the board being involved in the blacklist of the American state department. I will be happy to try to have the Minister come to the House again to discuss the matter. It is an important industry which provides employment in a significant part of the country.
Senator Bacik raised the matter of the trial, which we discussed yesterday. We all condemn the treatment of the victim. It is hard enough to come forward. We must support and encourage any victim of domestic violence or rape to come forward and give them the full support of the State. I welcome that the O'Malley review will be completed, it is hoped, by the end of December or early January. I give a commitment now that we will have that debate in the House in due course.
When Senator Norris came to speak to me, I thought he had said to me that we were not to conclude at 5 o'clock. Two schedules were issued, one for Members on Thursday afternoon last week and we issued another schedule during the week. To be fair, we have had over 41 hours of debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill and we cannot delay it any further. I do not wish to discommode any Member of the House but if we are going to have a variety of reasons to put off debate, we might as well not sit and just stay at home.
I am only talking about rescheduling and Senator Buttimer has admitted his mistake, so he should move on.
I made no mistake at all.
Senator Buttimer thought it ended at 5 o'clock-----
I made no mistake. Senator Norris, the father of the House, should recognise from his longevity of service that the Order of Business on the document he refers to is an indicative schedule which is subject to change. To be fair to all Members of the House, as Leader, I try not to dictate and rather try to bring people with me. I am disappointed that Senator Norris did not come to me before today about that when he had an opportunity to do so.
Senator Buttimer did not announce it until today.
It was announced if Senator Norris read it because it is on the schedule.
An amendment has been proposed.
I will not accept the amendment to the Order of Business. We are either a parliamentary body that debates or not.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of apprenticeships. I remind the Senator that the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, introduced a whole new range of apprenticeships. The Senator is quite correct that we are quite low on the league table of apprenticeships compared with, for example, Germany, which has 40%. In contrast, 60% of people here go into higher education and we must correct that imbalance. It is to be welcomed that we saw a 25% increase in people taking up apprenticeships last year. I will certainly ask the Minister to come to the House to outline the way in which the €122 million is spent on apprenticeships. I do not want to divide the House and hope Senator Norris will not press the amendment on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.
I will not press the amendment. I have made an arrangement with Fianna Fáil.
We have had more than 44 hours of debate on it and should continue with it to get it done.
Senator Humphreys has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." Is that agreed? Agreed. Senator Norris has withdrawn his amendment.