The Order of Business is No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to adjourn not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to be adjourned after two hours, if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
I will begin by congratulating Vicky Phelan on being included on the BBC list of trailblazers, leaders and everyday heroes. We all know Vicky Phelan took on the State when she discovered that she had been given an incorrect smear test result.
Instead of accepting a gagging order by the State, she went on and was able to reveal the magnitude and scale of the CervicalCheck scandal, and many women who were kept in the dark had a light shone on why they were suffering and given incorrect smear results. I congratulate her and commend her on her hard work and service to the State.
I congratulate the Irish rugby team on its victory last weekend. It shows that dedication, commitment and hard work, not only by the players and management but also by backroom staff, physiotherapists, doctors and everyone else involved in the team, pay off. I congratulate them all.
On a more serious note, I would like to raise the issue of crime in the city. I heard anecdotal evidence about a couple in their 60s who were mugged while walking home in a quiet suburban area at 10.30 p.m. in the evening. The lady's arm was broken in the process. There are thugs on our streets and nothing seems to deter them. They do not seem to have any respect for the rule of law. The issue is that gardaí are not on the beat anymore. They are not very visible on our streets. I have been saying time and again in this House that we need an increase in community policing. The Leader will say the Government has increased the number of trainee gardaí in Templemore but we are just not seeing them on the beat. We need to see them on the beat. One does not see them walking the streets of Dublin. We do not have the connection we used to have. I used to know the name of the community garda in every area in Dublin, including mine. That connection just does not exist anymore. The Government needs to examine this to ensure a connection between the youth and community gardaí.
The third issue I would like to raise is housing. Rents are currently 30% higher than they were at the peak of the Celtic tiger era. The average rent is €1,300 per month. We know that rent pressure zones, RPZs, are simply not working. There are too many exemptions. Landlords are saying they are giving the place a lick of paint or that family members are moving in. It does not seem that those affected will be getting their dream homes, and they are certainly not getting any rent certainty. It is very frightening for families living in rental accommodation. They just do not know whether they will be in it in the next six months. They deserve to know they will have a roof over their heads in the next year.
Many voices can be heard. If the House would like me to adjourn for half an hour until there is ciúnas, I will do so. I find it hard to hear the Senator speaking. The Members making noise know who they are. They should have a little respect for those who have the floor.
I wish to conclude on the delays associated with An Bord Pleanála. The statutory time limit for dealing with applications should be 18 weeks. Many applications are not being turned around in that time, however, which is causing serious delays for builders who want to get started on houses. This, in turn, has cost implications. If a start date is postponed, there are penalties. The Government needs to ensure more resources are given to An Bord Pleanála. One of the little clicks in the chain of the housing issue in Dublin is that the Government just not seem to grasp this. There needs to be a varied, wide-ranging approach to this issue. Addressing the performance of An Bord Pleanála is one aspect.
A number of years ago, the Department that occupies the Custom House enacted laws that enabled it to ban bedsits in Dublin. There was a four-year lead-in period for this to take place. Eventually, bedsits became illegal. They were defined as accommodation where there was any question of having to share kitchen or bathroom facilities in any building. The result of the edict from the Custom House was that between 8,000 and 12,000 dwellings in Dublin were declared illegal. The consequence was that many people who were quite happy in bedsits, some of which were of reasonable quality, although they were modest since facilities had to be shared, were effectively evicted by their landlords. All the housing stock was changed.
As a result, many houses were put up for sale at a time when the market was poor, people were evacuated from those houses and all of that additional potential housing stock was eliminated.
The same Department has come up with a number of housing plans since then, but it has had little success in implementing social housing, affordable housing or whatever, because it deputes most of this activity to the local authorities. All of that is bad enough and is a colossal chapter of ineptitude going back to 2009, but I am most concerned about the increasing number of stories about the standards of accommodation which are legal but totally unconscionable. There are stories of little box bedrooms with four bunks are being occupied by adults or of people working shifts to share a single bed. This kind of slum landlordism is apparently permissible. No real effort is made to inspect rented premises to see whether there are triple bunks in small rooms or rooms with six or eight people living in what is effectively a squalid dormitory. This is going on day in, day out in our capital city. The local authorities and the Department, which were so keen to close down bedsits in 2009, have not lifted a finger to assist with decent living standards in this city.
I appreciate that it is a complex problem, but inspection is not complex. It requires people knocking on doors and asking to see what is happening in the premises. In the RTÉ documentary, there was one premises in Crumlin which was a shocking example. We are expected to believe this all stopped because of that documentary, but I do not believe for a minute that it stopped. People are being exploited and gouged to live in these conditions, and the Department based in the Custom House is doing nothing to ensure that it stops. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to the House to explain precisely what he is doing to enforce even remotely decent housing standards in this city.
I wish to raise the issue of planning permission and the obstacles for many people in rural Ireland who are refused planning permission. I commend my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, on the Bill he proposed to amend the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act 1977, which will permit local authorities to grant a waster water discharge licence to applicants who want to build one-off rural houses where the percolation test has failed. I do not say this to increase pollution in rural areas, but we must be cognisant of the advances in technology and treatment systems that will allow waste water to be treated in a much more environmentally-friendly way than is currently the case. The Bill would move us away from zero discharge, which has prevented many families from building houses in rural areas. I know many families in Mayo and other parts of the country who are forced to pay high rents in different areas. I know one family who must have five jobs in total to pay the high rent, yet they are refused planning permission to build a modest house on their own land. That is not right. The planner is put out and if there has been incessant rain, naturally the trial hole will be full. The matter must be taken in the wider context of there being percolation solutions to address those problems.
God knows, we have enough depopulation in rural Ireland and enough families struggling to make a living that we must address this. That is why I urge all parties to support this legislation and allow it to go through to the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government where it will be further scrutinised. Time is of the essence because depopulation in rural areas of Ireland is a very serious problem. We want all the families which can remain in rural Ireland to stay there. We want our schools to be vibrant, and to have vibrant communities but that is not possible if we do not facilitate people in getting planning permission, often for their own land.
I ask that the Leader invite the Minister to the House to discuss planning permissions and the obstacles to people being able to build their own homes in rural Ireland.
It was wonderful to be part of a photograph of all current and former women Members of the Oireachtas. I pay tribute to all those former women Members and the immense contribution that many of them have made to both Houses.
Sunday was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Last year 158 people lost their lives on Irish roads, which included 15 cyclists and 30 pedestrians. It is important that we examine issues such as poor planning which can encourage speed and give priority to individual private vehicles which have greatly contributed to these deaths.
Roads are shared spaces that should feel safe and available to everybody of all ages and abilities. They should not feel like a battleground and should not be something about which people feel nervous. One of the main reasons people choose to stop cycling is fear of danger on the road. If we are to have a sustainable future and achieve Vision Zero - the idea that no one should lose their lives on our roads - then better planning and planning for sustainable transport will be a major factor. It was notable that at the extinction rebellion gathering - a strong gathering at the weekend of activists from all parties and none who are concerned about the environment and climate change - some of the loudest cheers came from those who called for a massive sea-change in sustainable public transport.
Another occasion this weekend was the awarding of the Tipperary International Peace Award to the former President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, for his extraordinary work in ending 52 years of conflict in Colombia and I congratulate him for his award. Ireland has a key role in that process, where former Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, was EU envoy and helped to achieve that peace agreement. Juan Manuel Santos was one of several activists who came to Ireland over the weekend. A separate event, hosted by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, brought activists from across the world to Dublin to participate in a conference in Liberty Hall to examine how we can favour diplomacy and democratic empowerment rather than ramping up militarisation and increasing military bases to secure peace and pass on a peaceful world to our children.
Today is World Children's Day. There is a very real question of whether our children will inherit a planet in jeopardy where the threat of war is revisited or if we can we pass on to the next generation a world that is in better shape. I welcome the initiative on early years and early years education which the Minister, Deputy Zappone, announced today. I hope the Big Start campaign and a campaign for a living wage for childcare workers will be part of that.
However, there are wider questions that we must ask about our responsibilities to children on international children's day. For instance, are the children of lone parents, who are at such greater risk of poverty, being adequately supported by the State? There are also the children who were born here but who do not have citizenship who also need to be looked after. We will be busy, but I ask the Leader that either before Christmas or early in the new year we would have a conversation about the State's duty to children. As we commemorate the First Dáil, the first duty of the State under the Democratic Programme adopted by the First Dáil in 1919 was a duty to children. It is a debate from which we would all benefit.
I join with the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator Higgins, on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. I participated in a ceremony in Drogheda organised by the Augustinian congregation there, a group of priests that does remarkable work with the community. It is a very progressive group which holds a very important remembrance service annually. It is organised by the priests, the wider church community in Drogheda and, importantly, the parents, family members and friends of victims of fatalities on our roads. They do a really important job of raising awareness of responsible behaviour on our roads and the dangers associated with speeding.
I will raise the concerns I have and which have been expressed to me over the past number of days by constituents who have been in contact who are concerned about the decision by the Minister and the Revenue Commissioners to review flat-rate tax reliefs. It is having a significant impact on ordinary workers up and down the country. As we know in the House-----
I am sorry to interrupt the Senator but there are conversations going on on one side of the House and I can barely hear the Senator. Senators should be respectful of those who are speaking. Voices carry in the Chamber and people are continually coming in so if Senators want to converse they should go out to the waiting room.
As I was saying, these reliefs are very important opportunities for ordinary working people such as bar workers, nurses, employed electricians, rail workers and others to claim back some small reliefs, for example for the purchase, cleaning or laundering of uniforms. I accept the reliefs have developed on a rather piecemeal basis over the years but now we understand Revenue is carrying out a very broad review of the reliefs and is likely to close them down. For a bar worker, they are worth €93 a year; for an employed electrician, €331 a year; and for a fire-fighter, €272 a year.
This issue was first brought to my attention by mine workers in Tara Mines in Navan, many of whom live in my constituency, who are in receipt of reliefs of €1,312 per year because of the nature of the work they do and associated costs. It now looks like those reliefs will be reduced and, in all likelihood, abolished. Doctors gain about €600 to €700 each year from this relief which involves reclaiming moneys expended on professional subscriptions.
I hope many Members of the House are trade union members. I am and I know Senator Higgins and others are. We are not in a position and neither is any member of a trade union to claim any relief on trade union subscriptions so there is no equity in this. It is important we provide some clarity on it. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House at the earliest opportunity to allow us to debate the framework involved, when the decision was taken and whether it is an open and transparent process.
Self-employed people and high-flyers have plenty of reliefs available to them in pension reliefs, property reliefs and so on which are not available to PAYE workers. The abolition of these small reliefs will cause real problems for ordinary working people up and down the country. It is important the Minister comes into the House to state very clearly why the review is taking place and within which framework it is taking place. If it is taking place, it needs to be clear, open and transparent.
Before I get into what I have prepared to speak about, I agree with the remarks made by Senator McDowell. It was a grave mistake to take bedsits out of circulation in Dublin for the student population and many other sectors of the population. As the Senator said, perhaps such people are in worse conditions now. It was a very significant error. I ask the Leader that it be looked at and debated. It is not possible to recreate some of them now but they served a great purpose.
I am delighted the Minister, Deputy McHugh, has decided to review the status of history as an optional subject for the junior certificate, in other words to look at the prospect of making it a compulsory subject again. There are a number of reasons for this. One needs an understanding of the past to understand where we are at now because to have a tolerant society and the kind of respect we should have for others and their traditions, one needs an understanding of where they come from and where and how it all began.
Of course that is not the kind of teaching that is prejudiced; it is holistic, fair teaching of history. In a community like mine in Cavan and Monaghan, and all along the Border, it is particularly necessary. In the context of Brexit, the people understand where the various traditions are coming from. In the decade of centenaries we need to understand people are in different situations and look at things differently. It is necessary to create a tolerant, humane and mutually respectful society. I am very confident that the review, please God, will allow the return of history as a mandatory subject. It is a very civilising and important part of the humanities. It is part of a good holistic education and should be brought back.
Over two years ago, I had a serious accident in a hotel bathroom. I sustained very serious injuries, multiple breakages and so on. I have hesitated to speak about it since because a few people might think I was feathering my own nest with a claim or something. I understand that the Statute of Limitations now applies. Since that accident I was approached by many other people who had similar accidents in hotel rooms where the shower and bath were combined in one.
It is very dangerous indeed. Most new-build hotels either put in a separate walk-in shower or, if necessary, a custom-designed low-wall bath with anti-slip devices in it along with the shower. I was quite shocked recently when I stayed in a very well-known and relatively recently refurbished hotel - I will not name it. I found myself climbing into a bath, the walls of which were as high as Becher's Brook with a very narrow base.
The water jump.
It was not designed as a shower; it was designed as a bath with a very narrow V-shaped bottom on it. To get purchase it would take someone, especially of my years, to stand legs akimbo in order not to fall. This could give rise to many accidents. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister, probably the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in terms of health and safety what plans the Government has to introduce regulation for hoteliers. I am not trying to make trouble for existing owners of guest houses or bed and breakfasts. In future build and renovation of hotels and guest houses, showers and baths should be fit for purpose, and if they must be combined in one, they should be treated to the most stringent health and safety regulations as regards height, width, non-slip and so on.
If the Senator had submitted a claim, he might have got more attention.
I deliberately decided to wait until that period was over.
In the past week the Parliamentary Budget Office has circulated an analysis - I know we are not dealing here with finance - of the National Training Fund. This was not envisaged to be a long-term fund; it was a tax or tariff on employees. However, I believe it has great scope. This document refers to potential scope for training and apprenticeships, and how this area may be reformed, as has been suggested. It is an important source of funding to assist people in apprenticeships.
I am mindful of the post-Brexit needs in the construction industry for painters, plasterers and decorators. Central Statistics Office data show that many skilled people have emigrated and not returned. We have a major shortage of craftspeople and tradespeople. We need them to rebuild the economy and with greatly needed houses. I ask the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the scope of and plans for the National Training Fund.
As an earlier speaker mentioned, today is International Children's Day. I am reminded that under this Government's watch the only six rehabilitation beds for children nationally in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire remain closed.
We have been told there is an issue with employment and contracts but they are still closed and another six have been closed. This means that, today, 12 beds are closed. They closed in January 2017. We are heading into 2019. Many are suggesting that there will be an election and that health will be an issue. I will certainly be banging this drum because I come in here week in and week out to advocate and ask the Government parties to come together and explain how they can stand over 12 closed beds at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. This is nothing short of disgraceful. I can confirm that six of them are the only specialist beds in the country for children.
Will the Leader organise for the Minister - and nobody less - to come to the House? The Minister has ultimate responsibility and will be on our television screens within months standing over his record in health. I support lot of what he does but nobody form any political party could stand over 12 essential rehabilitation beds being closed. Will the Minister come before the House to explain what he is doing about it and when he will put in place the necessary funding to reopen these essential beds?
Several weeks ago, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, opened a new 12-bed unit at St. Joseph's community nursing unit in Trim. We have a terrible shortage of respite care beds in Meath, with only 15 in the county which are scattered all over the place. Compared with Dublin, which has hundreds of respite care beds, Trim has a great opportunity with St. Joseph's community nursing unit because there is a greenfield site of a couple of acres available. There is no reason we cannot continue to build more respite care beds at the site. Will the Minister put money towards more respite care beds in the Meath area?
Do Members recall Tony O'Brien, the former HSE-----
Could we ever forget him?
Well said, Senator Norris.
Do not bring somebody's name into the public domain.
The former HSE boss-----
Be a little more delicate.
-----stated in an article in the Meath Chronicle two weeks ago that the accident and emergency services downgrade in Navan never happened and that he regretted this. My late mother spent a lot of time in the accident and emergency department in 2013 and 2014 when she was sick. I saw at first hand why the reconfiguration did not happen and I witnessed the downgrading of the accident and emergency department in Navan. I saw elderly people waiting for taxis and ambulances in order to be brought to the bigger hospitals at Blanchardstown, Drogheda and Cavan from Navan but when they were halfway there, they were sent back because those facilities were overflowing with people and could not cope. We need an accident and emergency department in Navan. The former HSE boss, who is now retired, should keep his mouth closed. Will the Minister come before the House to discuss what we will do with the accident and emergency department in Navan?
Earlier today, I and hundreds of people joined survivors of the Stardust nightclub and the families of the victims outside the Office of the Attorney General on Merrion Square. We all know the horrific story of the 48 young people who died on St. Valentine's Day in 1981. The Justice for Stardust campaign group has gathered 48,000 signatures. The families state that they have the new evidence, uncovered through freedom of information requests and previously unheard witness testimony, to warrant a new inquest. They have often claimed there was a cover-up by the Government at the time. This has been going on for too long and it is time the families were given the truth. They need peace of mind. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to justify why he believes there is no reason for a new inquest?
The original inquest declared that the fire was caused by arson but that was ruled out following a fresh inquiry in 2009. New information has emerged and the people concerned need to have their say.
To echo other comments, I want to give a shout-out to one of the world's most influential people - Vicky Phelan. Comhghairdeas to her. She is a remarkable person, especially when one considers that if she had taken the advice to undergo palliative chemotherapy she would be dead now. Fortunately, she carried out her own research into new treatment and I hope that she will live for a long time. Well done, Vicky. Well done, to us all.
I draw the attention of the House to an editorial published in last Saturday's edition of The Irish Times. It is extremely damning. It is a long time since I have read such a negative editorial and it bears directly on the business of this House. The headline for the article could be "Scrap the Judicial Appointments Bill". The first line reads, "It is still not too late for the Government to scrap the ill-advised Judicial Appointments Bill being foisted on the country at the whim of Minister for Transport Shane Ross." In one sentence there are four crucial negatives: "not too late"; "ill-advised"; "foisted"; and "whim". The only thing I have against the editorial is that it continued, "The Bill is bogged down in the Seanad because of a rearguard action led by former attorney general Michael McDowell." What about his second in command? Here I am.
That is scandalous.
In the article reference was made to Minister Ross's complaints.
The Senator can make his points to the Minister when he is in this Chamber later.
I will, indeed.
The article mentioned that the Minister, Deputy Ross, talked about people, "who will stop at nothing to frustrate democratic decisions.” However, the editorial pointed out that all of us with our various techniques of holding the Bill up to scrutiny are merely exercising our democratic rights, "to use all available parliamentary means to scrutinise a deeply flawed piece of legislation." The term "deeply flawed" is another negative.
The editorial noted that Fine Gael Senators and Deputies have objections to the Bill but are afraid to do anything because of the agreement they have to bring Deputy Ross into government, the latter stating the legislation is supposed to get rid of cronyism. As pointed out in the editorial, the legislation will do nothing of the kind whatsoever. This is in the editorial, which is an independent voice. It continued, "It will simply mean that the recommendations for appointment to the judiciary will be made by a body which does not have the necessary expertise or experience to make informed recommendations." That is pretty damning stuff. The author of the editorial admits that there is a case for reviewing the judicial appointments process but points out, "this Bill was drafted on the basis of no serious research, analysis or international comparisons", and that the Government has failed to prove any deficiency or that any rotten judges were appointed.
The editorial continued, "It is about time that the Fine Gael majority in the Cabinet", put their foot down and instructed, "Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to go back to the drawing board" with this Bill whether or not it entails the resignation of Deputy Ross. We could all live with that one.
I want to raise the issue of rail services in the west of Ireland. I have received many calls about the issue in recent times and have experienced it myself as a frequent user of rail services.
Recently the Sligo-Boyle-Dublin route has improved with the addition of an extra evening service. We also have an additional later service whereby the Dublin to Sligo service was extended by one hour from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. We must apply those lessons to other routes, particularly in respect of the Roscommon-Westport route where the last train departs from Heuston Station at 6.15 p.m. A significant number of people use the service as a daily commute. The fact that the last train leaves so early can cause practical difficulties for many people. I say that because, according to the timetable for the Cork service, the last train departs from Heuston Station for Cork every evening at 9 p.m.
We must take a proper look at the delivery of rail services to the west and the particular needs of working people. I have raised this on numerous occasions with the National Transport Authority and departmental officials. Along with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, can we invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the House-----
And do his job instead of fecking around with the judges.
----- to address practical issues in rail services serving the west of Ireland.
I join the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Ardagh, in congratulating the IRFU and the Irish rugby team on the fantastic victory last Saturday night against the All Blacks of New Zealand. It was a great night for Ireland and for rugby. It is regrettable that we did not pursue the Rugby World Cup.
We did pursue it.
We should have got it. Nevertheless, we must congratulate the Minister, Deputy Ross, on the success of the team.
Well done, Minister Ross.
Congratulations and well done. We will never look back.
Senator Ardagh referred to crime, gangland violence and the need for more gardaí on the beat. That is all very commendable, but gardaí are facing major challenges with the crimes and assassinations that are happening. Dublin is a very dangerous city at present due to the operations taking place and the number of assassinations by the Kinahan and Hutch gangs. Last night, I watched "Crimecall" on RTÉ, which is an excellent programme. I commend Sharon Ní Bheoláin and the gardaí from Harcourt Square who are involved. It should be on more often. The programme started in 1964 as "Garda Patrol". People who had televisions at the time will remember it. In the 1990s, it was revamped as "Crimeline" and it is known as "Crimecall" since 2004. It is only shown about once a month. It is produced by Green Inc Film & Television Ltd. and 360 Production Ltd. I commend them on the presentation. I also commend the contribution of the Garda Síochána.
Many people were identified last night stealing and committing crimes in Dublin. In Wicklow, two people were attacked on a lonely road, their car was stolen and they were robbed. The programme covers the country. It is not just reserved for Dublin. When it shows the films, people ring in to say they know the person. It is a great contribution and Virgin Media Television should broadcast something similar. I presume it is online but when new information arrives, it should be put on Facebook or Twitter. If new people are shown robbing and burning shops and robbing filling stations, let them be exposed online, identified and brought to justice. Senator Ardagh knows the Dublin situation. There is a need for more gardaí on the beat and also for armed gardaí in Dublin. They take a very big risk. They are very courageous and I wish them well.
The figures are available for the third quarter of the year and they show that year-on-year employment increased by 3.4%. There is an increase of 14% overall, year-on-year, in the number of people working in the construction sector. It is evidence that the building of residential accommodation continues to increase. Approximately 20,000 new houses will be completed by the end of this year. The long-term target is 30,000 to 35,000 per annum and, hopefully, we will reach that target in the next 12 months. I refer to Senator McDowell's comments on inspections and the fact that bedsits have been eliminated under legislation. In fact, somebody called to me recently and told me that 12 people living in a property in Cork have been given notice to leave by the end of February. Unfortunately, all 12 of them will find it difficult to get accommodation, and it is a major challenge for the local authority to provide alternative accommodation.
I am not clear about the issues in Dublin, but my experience in Cork is that the fire authority and the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, are inspecting buildings in the Cork region. When 30 beds appeared in one property over a short period, the fire officer went in and had the place closed down. I congratulate the fire officer for being vigilant and making sure all the safety measures relating to residential accommodation are upheld. I accept that we need to look at this issue. Many people who were in bedsits are now out of the property market and are finding it difficult to source alternative accommodation. We need to review how we can deal with people who want to live on their own. More than 1,800 single or separated people are on the Cork City Council waiting list.
They are always at the bottom of the list.
They want to get replacement accommodation but are finding it difficult. This needs to be examined..
We need to deal with it in a short time period.
I have spoken numerous times recently on the use and abuse of the referendum process, particularly by this Government. It is now the weapon of choice for all kinds of populist proposals, or for providing cover or distraction from other controversies or Government failures. Apart from the recent abortion and blasphemy referendums, there is talk of the constitutional protection of women who choose to remain in the home being challenged by the Government in a referendum. I am sure the proposed referendum on the unified patent court will set the minds of the electorate ablaze with enthusiasm. A referendum on directly elected mayors is on the agenda.
That is democracy.
It has been suggested that there could be a third referendum on divorce. There is a proposal for Irish people living abroad to be allowed to vote in presidential elections. The idea that we should have a referendum on public ownership of water is a nonsense populist proposal that has been acceded to by the Government to dampen the flames of the Irish Water fiasco.
The Senator is a bit of a populist himself.
The list seems to go on and on.
The Senator has forgotten the referendum on marriage equality.
The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, seems to have added another referendum to this list. Last week, he made a direct threat against the Judiciary when he warned that the Government might hold a referendum to curb its discretion in respect of personal injury awards and, specifically, whiplash awards. This raises a number of issues. As we know well in this House, having been subjected to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, about which others spoke earlier, the Judiciary is often fair game for populist attacks. It is disappointing that the Minister of State, who is a former Member of this House, is jumping on the bandwagon. I am concerned that he may have done so at the behest of the Government and not as a solo run. How would such a referendum be crafted or worded? It seems to me that it would be impossible to achieve his aim without making a more general encroachment on the independence of the Judiciary, which would be a seriously wrong step to take. It seems to me that the aim of restricting the level of awards could be relatively easily dealt with in legislation. We need to be careful when we discuss whiplash because we risk penalising or stigmatising those who have genuine personal injury claims. The use of phrases like Ireland being the "whiplash capital of Europe" suggests that all whiplash claims are false or fraudulent but this is clearly not the case.
Many of them are.
We cannot afford to make any changes in this area which might affect those who suffer as a result of genuine injuries. The best way to deal with false insurance claims is to encourage and assist insurance companies to probe and defend rigorously those claims they believe to be suspect.
A recent High Court case pertaining to a serious attempt at insurance fraud, which involved a number of individuals, was successfully defended by the insurance company through rigorous investigation and strong legal defence. That is the way to go. The courts system can work. We need to find ways of assisting it, rather than resorting to draconian and populist measures, which is a mania at this time.
Last month in Kilkenny, some very excited youngsters were invited to rob a bank, which they did to the tune of a cool €31 million. Before anyone panics, it was a virtual bank. This took place as part of the 2018 CoderDojo conference, which took place over a weekend.
Was it the Sinn Féin conference?
Children as young as five learned to code and listened as spacewoman, Norah Patten, an aeronautical engineer who hopes to be the first Irish female astronaut to fly to the moon, said that if something seems impossible, that does not mean one should not try. Learning to rob a bank in the virtual world taught these children about privacy, passwords, consequences and teamwork. Local children and children from all over the world participated in this event. They were joined by thousands of coders, parents, students and volunteers, who came together to promote this global movement and the message that technology has benefits for children and for inclusion.
There is a strong need in industry in Ireland for better computer science skills and higher numbers of graduates but despite the presence of high-tech multinationals, there is no computer science education in second level and as a result there is a shortage in the high-tech sector of applicants with advanced skills.
Learning data and computer languages are like learning a foreign language in that the younger one starts, the better. This is one reason the Government's only initiative, a capitation top up to third level institutions for each computer science graduate it churns out, has been a failure. This is because it is so much harder to take up computational learning at a late stage. The low supply of computer science graduates has led to significant wage inflation in the sector which has a particular negative effect on our homegrown tech sector. The high salaries offered to computer science graduates cannot be matched-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
This is just about-----
It is not appropriate to come in and read a long statement. On the Order of Business, Senators raise a question. If the Senator wants to frame this issue into a question, I will allow her to do so.
It is very strange the Cathaoirleach only asked this of me and did not address anybody else-----
No. Most Senators who raise issues ask-----
Excuse me, I highlighted a lack of computer-----
Please respect the Chair.
On the Order of Business, most Senators ask the Leader for debate or ask a question. It is not appropriate for the Senator to come in and read out a statement and I have been in this House in various capacities for much longer than the Senator has.
Excuse me but the Cathaoirleach was not listening to me. I asked about second level and computer skills-----
If she did, I did not hear the question
-----and the fact they are taught in England but not here so we need to promote children-----
So the Senator is calling for a debate on it.
Yes I am. I said that in my contribution if the Cathaoirleach had only listened to it.
I did not hear it. I am just trying to be fair to Members.
No, the Cathaoirleach was not being fair.
I raise the serious plight and situation small beef farmers find themselves in. Two factories are selling beef below the cost of production and things are getting worse. There is a glut of cattle in the market, which could be down, in part, to some of the dairy herd being sold for meat. Last week alone there was a record approximately 40,000 animals slaughtered and yet compared to this time last year, beef is down approximately 30 cent per kilo. This time last year a farmer was getting €4.05 per kilo but now it is €3.75 per kilo.
Farmers facing into Christmas would be hoping for a boost but this has not materialised. We all welcome that in the budget the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine recognised the pressure the suckler cow farmer is under and the pressure on beef production and introduced the beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme, giving it €20 million along with providing €23 million to the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme, which all helps these small farmers.
However, they are in a bind. Teagasc figures show that it costs €800 to keep a suckler cow for the year and yet some farmers are only getting €700 for a weanling at the factory. There is a serious problem here-----
Is the Senator calling for a debate?
Yes, I am. Some of these farmers will go to the wall. I ask for the Minister to come in here to have a debate on the matter. I know it is not within his gift to decide on the prices the factories pay to farmers but it has all the appearances of a concerted practice when practically every factory in the country is offering the same price per kilo. The Minister needs to put pressure on these factories because he is out there winning markets abroad for them. We sell food into 180 markets. Much work is carried out by the Minister, his officials and Bord Bia to win these markets and if these farmers go, there will be no beef production system whatsoever. Something has to be done.
I highlight the fact that the beef forum, as it stands, is up in the air. This provides an opportunity for the Minister to sit around the table with the farming organisations and the meat factories to sort out these issues. We urgently need the Minister to come into the House because this is moving in totally the wrong direction for these farmers. It is not sustainable that anybody would keep selling below the cost of production and remain in business.
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was signed into law in 2015. It complemented the referendum for marriage equality and gave rights to same sex parents so that their family formation would be recognised and protected. Some three and a half years on, children of same sex couples are growing up but there is still only one parent allowed on their birth certificate, leaving the other parent without any legal rights-----
----over their child. Senator Mullen failed to mention marriage equality in his contribution.
Would the Senator describe that as a populist referendum?
This is the type-----
It was very popular indeed.
I asked would the Senator describe it as a populist referendum.
Senator Mullen was behind the hedge-----
I was making a correction.
Senators please, we are long over time. I have threatened before. This ruaille buaille and interruption is unfair. Senator Norris should know that.
He is the worst offender in the House.
He should allow Senator Warfield to continue. This has been one of the most disorderly sessions since I became Cathaoirleach. There is chatting on both sides of the House.
I am not chatting.
The Senator is making several interruptions and he should please be quiet. That is another minute gone. The Leader will be under pressure to conclude before 4.45 p.m.
This is the type of policy that would make Senator Mullen proud. During the debate on the amendment Bill in this House this year, the Minister for Health promised families that those Parts would be commenced by October. Anxiety among families is growing. It has steadily increased every time the Department has missed its deadlines and there have been six missed in total. In the most recent response to a parliamentary question, the Department of Health is indicating that it may amend Part 9 prior to commencement, yet another likely delay of rights that should have been afforded years ago.
The Leader must make time available next week for one of the Ministers for Health, Justice and Equality or Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come to the Seanad and provide us with an update. Enough is enough. Given the delays and missed deadlines it is time for a bit of honesty and transparency from Government. I am sick of it, others are sick of it and most certainly the affected families are sick of it.
I will try to keep my comments short and succinct and I hope without interruption.
Indeed. I remind the Senator from Roscommon that the Government made a very strong bid, led by Hugo MacNeill and others, for the World Cup and was in the last three but did not succeed on this occasion. I congratulate the Irish Rugby and Football Union, IRFU, and the Irish rugby team on their fantastic win the other night. They have lifted the nation.
Referenda are the right of the people and there might be certain elements in this House who would like to keep the people in the dark and deprive them of a voice but I would not count myself among those.
The high moral ground suits the Senator.
I missed that because, thankfully, the acoustics here are not as good as they might be.
Balbriggan is a town of 25,000 people that has wonderful natural amenities and a public consultation will be launched next Monday in respect of a regeneration programme to which the public is invited. The plan is to spend over €22 million. It is an opportunity for the people of Balbriggan to have an input into the future of their town, our town, of Balbriggan with its wonderful coastline, beach, train station, access to the M1, etc. It is a very exciting plan and one that will hugely enhance the town but it can only be improved by more local input. I hope as many people as possible will go to that between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. next Monday in Balbriggan.
I also encourage Fingal County Council to make an application under the greenway scheme for the greenway from Malahide and Portmarnock all the way to Balbriggan. We have a fantastic coastline, six railway stations and the airport is beside us. It would be a wonderful amenity for the people of Dublin to be able to walk and cycle in safety. We all know our roads are not safe for families to go out cycling on, even in north county Dublin where many people enjoy the environment and the hills. Many cyclists tell me that is what it is all about. Will the Leader please ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to have a debate on greenways and their health, well-being, tourism and economic advantages and their benefit to the nation generally?
Today is International Children's Day and it acts as yet another timely reminder of the importance of looking after our young people as we know they are the future of our country.
Unfortunately the children of 2018 face many more challenges than we faced in our daily lives when we were that age. I welcome the new anti-bullying programme that was launched today in four schools in County Monaghan and four schools in County Louth. The programme was drafted and drawn up in Finland and is an internationally-recognised early intervention anti-bullying programme that is being rolled out in many parts of Europe at present. I acknowledge the great work being done by many teachers the length and breadth of this country in respect of bullying in schools and I hope this initiative will help them in their good work.
There was a survey done recently on the 1,600 students who attend the eight schools in question. It found that 23% of the student population was being bullied two to three times a month and sometimes even more. That is a very worrying trend. Years ago, bullying was confined to the schoolyard but unfortunately today we live in the world of cyber-bullying and we have to be very cognisant of that. I sincerely hope this new initiative will instil a greater sense of awareness among the pupils and help stamp out the curse of bullying. I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister for Education and Skills the importance of rolling this initiative out in primary schools countrywide as soon as possible. Unfortunately only eight schools are being looked after this year. Bullying is a serious problem affecting our children, sometimes with serious consequences.
The Leader to respond.
Perhaps either the Cathaoirleach or the Leader will explain this. Am I correct in interpreting the Order of Business as meaning that the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will end two hours after it commences?
That is correct.
I thank the Leader. I just wanted to be sure about that.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions. On a point of information for Senator McDowell, it is two hours after the debate commences. I join Members of the House in congratulating the Irish rugby team on its magnificent victory last Saturday night. I am glad they are following Munster's lead in winning on Irish soil. I also join with the House in congratulating Vicky Phelan on her well-deserved accolade over the weekend.
Senator Ardagh raised five matters at the beginning of the Order of Business. I remind her that the Government is committed to tackling the issue of crime. In particular, I highlight the provision of €95 million in overtime to An Garda Síochána, 800 new gardaí along with the appointment of additional civilian staff, and the reopening of Templemore. The number of gardaí operating will be 14,000, the highest in a decade, along with a budget of €1.76 billion, an increase of €100 million in budget 2018. There is also the €10 million for new cars and €7 million for a Garda building programme, not to mention the reform of An Garda Síochána. To those on the opposite side who talk about An Garda Síochána, let us put the facts out there in terms of the numbers, investment, personnel, capital investment, new equipment and Garda cars. The Senator is right that visibility is important and that is why the Garda is embarking upon a new model of community policing which is being unfurled in the next couple of weeks.
Senators Ardagh, McDowell and Colm Burke raised the issue of housing. We will have the Minister come to the House in the coming weeks to have another debate on housing. I concur with Senator McDowell completely on the issue he raises in respect of bedsits, but also on the right of inspection. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is publishing legislation in the new year which will enhance the powers of the Private Residential Tenancies Board in terms of inspection along with an increase in the resources allocated for the tenancies board. On the issue of sanction being given to take on bogus landlords, I agree there is a need for more vigilance. Some of the conditions are appalling and unacceptable and we should condemn them unreservedly.
One of Senator Ardagh's colleagues raised the issue of An Bord Pleanála last week. There has been a significant number of applications to An Bord Pleanála, and they are up by 19%. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is committed to putting in more resources and we all want decisions to be made in a more timely way as it is more beneficial for local authorities, for landowners and for homeowners. I would be very happy for the Minister to come to the House for a discussion on the matter the Senator raised. If we were to follow the policies of Fianna Fáil in government we would now be looking at ghost estates, which this Government and that which preceded it have got rid of.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to planning. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. I join Senator Higgins in congratulating all serving and former Members for their participation in Votáil 100, which is a credit to all involved. In particular, I pay tribute to our female colleagues, Senators McFadden, Bacik, Ardagh and Higgins, for the way this House has commemorated the event in such a proactive way. I thank them most sincerely.
Senator Higgins made some important comments on the national road safety day. We remember, pay tribute to and thank the Garda Síochána first responders for their work on our roads. I also pay tribute to those who have died tragically on the roads. It is important to highlight the fact that our roads are not battlegrounds but are a shared space.
Today is World Children's Day, as Senator Higgins also mentioned. The State has a duty of care to all our children and that is why the Proclamation states that we cherish all our children equally. This and the last Government have brought forward 30 pieces of legislation to change the lives of young people for the better. Senator Mullen forgot to mention the children's rights referendum and what was an important change to the Constitution. I would be happy to have a debate on children in due course.
Senator Nash asked about the review of the flat-rate tax relief, which is being carried out by Revenue. There was a piecemeal approach to the issue and, outside flat-rate expenses, all employees retain the right to claim expenses they incur which are not reimbursed by their employers. We will have a debate when the review comes back. Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of health and safety in hotels - specifically in the context of baths and showers - which is very important point. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss health and safety. The point the Senator made in respect of new-builds is also important.
I would be happy for the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy John Halligan, to come to the House to discuss apprenticeships, as requested by Senator Boyhan.
Senator Butler raised the issue of health and respite care. He also referred to accident services in his own constituency but he may be better putting in a Commencement matter on that subject.
Senator Devine referred to the Stardust families, for whom all of us have great sympathy. We remember very vividly the day when so many young people were tragically killed. The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Justice McCartan, which, I know, does not provide the outcome for which the families were looking. The Taoiseach made it clear in the Dáil today that there will be no moving away from that. However, I would be happy to talk with the Senator again on the matter. Tabling a Commencement matter may be the way forward. All of us have sympathy for, and empathy with, the families in this case. The Government accepted the McCartan report. Mr. Justice McCartan's name was one of those put forward by the families in the context of leading the inquiry.
Senator Norris referred to the editorial in The Irish Times on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. What the editorial did not mention, but perhaps should have, was the histrionic behaviour of some, the filibustering by a few, the hyperbole of a couple, the repetition by many-----
-----the childish games being played by some, the time-wasting and the lack of enlightenment on the part of a number of others.
However, we will be continuing the debate.
Nonsense. What the Leader is saying is tripe.
We will be continuing the debate later and I am sure we will have further hyperbole, heat and little enlightenment from some Members of the House regarding it.
Give us some examples of the hyperbole. Does the Leader know what the word means?
Allow the Leader to conclude.
I doubt he knows what it means.
I do not descend to the Senator's level of ridicule but the behaviour of some Members in the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill-----
Has been exemplary.
The Leader should not invite debate.
We have used every parliamentary tactic that is perfectly legitimate. The Leader just does not like it.
It does not bother me.
It seems to have got under his skin.
Please, Senator Norris.
I am well able to give and take-----
That is for sure.
-----and I do not mind that.
If the Leader is having a discussion he should address his remarks through the Chair.
Members should realise that we entering into the 42nd or 43rd hour of debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, much of which has been repetitious-----
A lot of it has not been.
Much of it has been repetitive.
The Leader has not been here for most of it, so how would he know.
I do not like the personalisation of attacks on Members of the House-----
Well, stop it then.
I have attacked nobody.
Please, Senator Norris.
Senator Hopkins raised the important issue of the western rail corridor and, in particular, the Westport to Roscommon train service. I would be happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to address that issue.
I must apologise to Senator Leyden as I did not catch all his contribution apart from what he said about the Rugby World Cup bid, of which the Government was very supportive and into which it put a great deal of time and effort.
They will have to improve the quality of the microphones. I basically complimented Senator Ardagh on raising the issue of crime.
I replied to the matter raised by Senator Ardagh, which Senator Leyden might recall.
-----and the need for-----
I referred to the recruitment of more gardaí and the allocation of more resources.
I spoke about "Crimecall" and work being done in RTÉ to bring------
The Senator is lucky in that he was able to raise two issues. Most of us are only allowed to raise one.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of employment. We all welcome the fact we are nearing full employment in the economy.
In particular, we welcome the fact that more people are back working in the construction sector.
Is there somebody speaking on a phone in the Chamber?
There is, yes.
Senator Norris, I can hear you clearly. Allow the Leader to continue.
Senator Mullen, being a profound scholar, should recognise that the essence of our democracy is that the people decide on whether to accept, amend or reject constitutional referenda. That is a fundamental part of our democracy. It is important the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is allowed to put forward his viewpoint regarding personal injuries awards and if a referendum on it is required, the Government will approve it.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of computer science-----
In secondary education.
I did not get to finish my point on it.
The Senator should do a bit of research before she comes into the House to make contributions because-----
The Leader should address his comments through the Chair.
The then Minister, Deputy Bruton, in February of last year announced the creation of a new leaving certificate curriculum with the inclusion of computer science as a subject to be introduced in 2018. That has come in, with all schools to take it up in 2020.
In 2020. Therefore, it has not come in yet.
With all schools to take it up in 2020. The Senator needs to be-----
I am right.
The Senator is not right.
She is not. I draw the Senator's attention to the fact that Professor Brendan Tangney and the then Minister spoke at the launch and it has been a school subject since September of this year. The Senator should not come in and say that nothing is happening. That is what causes people to get annoyed with politicians. Credit should be given to the former Minister for Education, Deputy Bruton, for starting the digital revolution. Let us get the facts right. That is a subject in schools and computer education has been part of our school curriculum for a while. The former Minister of State in the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Cannon, set up the CoderDojo programme. I would happy to arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come into the House to explain to the Senator what is happening in the science area, including in computer science, in our schools.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of small beef farmers and I would happy to arrange a debate on beef production in the coming weeks.
I share with Senator Warfield's frustration and annoyance regarding the failure to commence sections of the Children and Family Relationships Act. The delay in do so has been too long. I concur fully with him on that. It needs to be enacted quickly. The Senator will find no harbour for delaying doing that on this side of House.
It is unacceptable.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of greenways around Fingal and spoke about the need to invite the Minister to the House. I would be happy to have that debate take place.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of bullying. Addressing that is an important part of our school policy. The former Ministers, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Richard Bruton, continued the rolling out of the anti-bullying curriculum. It is an issue on which we need to see further work done. The Senator is right to highlight the issue of cyberbullying also.