Order of Business

I apologise for being slightly late. I was meeting a French delegation, which had to be done. We were trying to reverse Brexit but we did not succeed.

Before I ask the Leader to outline today's business, I welcome Mrs. Maire Ardagh to the Chamber. Her late husband, Seán Ardagh, was a Member of the other House for many years. We were great friends and I understand there will be a tribute to him in the other House later following his sad passing. Ms Ardagh is extremely welcome to the Chamber. I am honoured to be here to welcome her.

I ask the Leader to outline the business for the day

The Order of Business is No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned at 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and to be adjourned at 6 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to be adjourned after two hours if not previously concluded.

Senator Ardagh has to leave the Chamber soon. I welcome Mrs. Maire Ardagh to the Public Gallery and thank her for her contribution to Irish public life. She was very generous in giving us her late husband, Seán, who, as the Cathaoirleach said, was a thorough gentleman and a good friend to many of us in the House. I had the pleasure of knowing him. We shared office space in Leinster House 2000 and we had many a chat over a cup of coffee. He was a very helpful, courteous and professional gentleman. Mrs. Ardagh's daughter is continuing the good public service in this House as leader of the Fianna Fáil group. We thank Mrs. Ardagh and remember Seán Ardagh today.

We will call on the lady in question, Senator Catherine Ardagh.

This morning we learned of a very tragic incident in Castleblayney where a young man in his 40s was killed while sitting in a stationary vehicle. A garda has been injured. It is not fatal but he had very serious injuries to his head and limbs. I convey my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil group to the family of the victim who was fatally injured and to the garda in question. It is a serious, crazy tragedy. The details are unbelievable.

The second issue I wish to raise concerns a Barnardos report, according to which 37,000 children are on waiting lists across the country for various treatments, including mental health treatment, disability treatments, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy. I met an alliance of DEIS school principals from the Ballyfermot area. They stated categorically that such treatments needed to be provided in schools if they were to benefit children directly. I call for a debate on DEIS school funding. The DEIS model was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government, specifically by my colleague, former Deputy Mary Hanafin. The model has been successful. In the 1980s the primary school retention rate in disadvantaged areas was only 80%. It is now over 90%. Despite its success, the model is outdated. Funding for DEIS schools has not increased and their pupil-teacher ratios have not improved, even though they have in mainstream schools. Alongside the debate about the DEIS model, we should discuss providing treatments such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychological support in mainstream schools in order that children can have direct access to them, instead of the system relying on their parents to bring them to appointments.

I congratulate our colleague, Senator Ruane, on winning the non-fiction book of the year award at the An Post Irish Book Awards last night. It was a major achievement. More than 100,000 people cast their votes for her book. I congratulate her on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group.

I would like to be associated with those remarks about Senator Ruane's fantastic achievement in winning one of the top five book awards. It is a great tribute to her. We should be proud to have her in this Chamber.

I, too, congratulate Senator Ruane on her fantastic achievement. She is a great addition to the House.

I also congratulate Joe Schmidt, Johnny Sexton and the rest of the Irish rugby team on winning the coach, player and team of the year awards, respectively. It was an unbelievable achievement. Senators may not know that in my sport Dominic Casey from Skibbereen was last week voted world rowing coach of the year. We have had a bunch of firsts in recent weeks.

A good west Cork man.

The Cathaoirleach has it.

I inform the House of a proposed reciprocal visa deal that would allow Irish citizens to apply for E-3 visas as part of new immigration legislation before the US House of Representatives. As the Bill is due to be voted on this evening, it is fingers crossed. The visas would come from the unused portion of the 10,500 E-3 visas currently allocated to Australia which has never used its full allocation. It could allow us up to 5,000 visas per year in perpetuity. As under the current law, the spouses and children of the new visa holders would not count against the cap. Their spouses would also be allowed to work. The Bill would require visa holders to have a third level education or its equivalent. It is a two-year renewable work visa. Ireland has been disadvantaged since the Immigration and Nationality Act 1965 which inadvertently choked off Irish emigration to the United States. The last time Ireland received a new visa allocation was in the early 1990s under a scheme initiated by former Congressman Bruce Morrison. There has been disappointment on immigration legislation previously, particularly in 2007 and 2013 when we came very close to having it, but I am cautiously optimistic in welcoming the new Bill, given that the President, the homeland security chief, Speaker Ryan's office and Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner and Richard Neal are pushing it forward today during the lame duck session. Deputy Deasy and I have been working tirelessly in the background with Democrats and Republicans to ensure there is complete and bipartisan support for the initiative. It is my ardent hope that, in addition to creating a future flow of Irish emigrants to the United States, many of the undocumented Irish will also qualify for the scheme.

I welcome Mrs. Ardagh to the Visitors Gallery. I hope she will have a nice day.

On behalf of the Sinn Féin team in the Seanad, I congratulate Senator Ruane on her wonderful achievement.

Most of all, I wish to discuss broadband provision. The Cathaoirleach referred to meeting a French delegation. I hope he congratulated the delegates on the fact that a French billionaire owned our national telecommunications company which was sold off by the people sitting to my left. First, we had the Australian spectators. Now, we have a Frenchman, all of which has left us in this state. We must ask a couple of questions. Will the State be open to a legal challenge because of the debacle that is the tender process, for example, the 18 meetings held and the way in which the process has been conducted? There is also the fact that 300,000 households were hived off to Eir, rendering it more difficult for the rural broadband programme to be viable. While I do not disregard the report, it does not cover everything. As it is not a legal opinion, we need to get one. Above all, we need to know when the process for the 542,000 households without broadband will start and finish. We, in rural Ireland, are fed up with the semantics and announcements. Last night I started to count the number of announcements of broadband services. I gave up at 76, but I am sure it could have run into the hundreds. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments have announced broadband services time and again, but they have never delivered. I am not just raising the issue because of the people and businesses without broadband. I am also raising it because of the thousands of jobs we have lost during the years because we do not have proper broadband or telecommunications infrastructure. We have a Minister for Rural and Community Development who announces every LEADER programme grant going, in which he had no hand, act or part and who portrays the illusion that everything is wonderful and fantastic in rural Ireland-----

It is Government funding.

-----but he never mentions the thousands of jobs that have been denied to people living in rural Ireland or the thousands who have been forced to emigrate because this infrastructure has not been provided. Shame on all of your houses. We want to know when we will have broadband in rural Ireland. We deserve to have it as much as anyone else. We are sick and tired of the semantics, presentations, spin and every other antic. We want broadband now as we want to be able to communicate. We want the telecommunications infrastructure that we deserve.

I join others in congratulating my Trinity College Dublin colleague, Senator Ruane, on her remarkable achievement in winning a major literary award. My autobiography was nominated some years ago, but it did not get anywhere.

It was a great read.

Yes, but it was banned by RTÉ because of the use of the word "prick".

RTÉ did not appreciate it.

Obviously, people had not read the Bible and realised it part was a quote from the Acts of Paul. How we have declined in our religious education.

(Interruptions).

On Sunday I took the opportunity at the last moment to visit the metal soldier at the Fusiliers' Arch at St. Stephen's Green. It was remarkable. There was a large crowd of people who were respectful and dignified. It showed the significance of the Irish reaction. Those who threw red paint over a war memorial and wreaths were stupid and ignorant. It is pretty much as low as one can get. The response of the people was interesting.

In light of the fact that it drew out this response, it was a good thing.

Regarding broadband, I am glad and interested in the fact that Deputy Naughten has been completely vindicated and cleared, as it appears. A very careful and very tightly crafted regime was instigated, however, and it appears that not all those measures were complied with. This raises a question about this regime, which will have to be looked at again and either enforced or dropped. There is no point in having a regime in place if it is not implemented.

I also welcome Maire Ardagh to the House. I knew her late husband, Seán. He was a gentleman and in opposition would always offer a smile and a "hello" and was always very helpful. Mrs. Ardagh should be very proud of her daughter, Senator Catherine Ardagh, who is well regarded in this House. It is great to see that line continuing.

I also congratulate our colleague, Senator Ruane. We are all very proud of her. She represents our House in a unique way. The literary award she won last night was a great achievement for her. It was also a great night for the Seanad.

I listened to Senator Lawless's contribution and I thank him for all the work he has done on Capitol Hill. It is hugely important and relevant. The Senator, Deputy John Deasy and many others have articulated the issue of the undocumented Irish in their own way, in a nice way, behind the scenes and without escalating the matter. I appreciate that and I hope their efforts work out.

I listened to Senators talking about broadband. The will make an observation, although I normally do not enter into political discussion. Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party and any time I go across the Border I cannot get 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G. I get general packet radio service or GPRS. While we have done a great deal on broadband, we can do an awful lot more. I would like to know what the difference is in connection rates between the Twenty-six Counties and the North of Ireland, where Sinn Féin is in government. It is easy to blame people. I could be proved wrong, but any time I go across the Border I wonder why I can only access GPRS because we stopped using it here 15 or 20 years ago. Perhaps we should stand back and think before we say these things but perhaps I am wrong.

The Hauntings Soldier in St. Stephen's Green was an absolute joy and galvanised the opinion of a great number of people in remembrance of the relatives of the 200,000 Irishmen who served in the First World War. It was wonderful to see. While we have a memorial garden in Islandbridge, perhaps now is the time to have a permanent statue of a smaller size of the Hauntings Soldier in St. Stephen's Green. I saw a recent poll showing that up to 60% of people thought that would be a good idea and were in favour of it.

I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of the young 40 year old man who lost his life tragically in Castleblayney town last night. I understand he is a family man with two young children and was at work when the tragedy happened. I can only for a minute think what that family is going through at present and the pain and suffering that lies ahead of them. The time of year and the fact that he leaves behind young children make it even more heartbreaking. I am sure the thoughts and prayers of everyone in both Houses are with the family at this difficult time. I also extend my best wishes to the young garda who was involved in the incident and is very fortunate to be alive this morning. He was very brave in carrying out his duties and put his life on the line doing his job. This illustrates yet again the dangers the men and women of An Garda Síochána face daily. There is probably no other occupation whose members put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniform, and we are all deeply indebted to the Garda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the garda involved and all other gardaí in County Monaghan. I hope he makes a speedy recovery.

The other issue I wish to touch on briefly was raised by Senator Lawless. I refer to the undocumented in the US. I compliment Senator Lawless on the great work he has done in this regard. He has been a fantastic ambassador for all our Irish brothers, sisters and cousins who find themselves undocumented over there. They go through great pain and suffering, particularly when a loved one passes away and they have a big decision to make as to whether to go home for the burial. I compliment Senator Lawless on the work he has done and the many other political voices from across the political divide who have worked on this area. I hope the vote this afternoon goes well and there will be hope for the people in America who would like to legalise their position and be able to come home whenever the need arises.

I welcome Mrs. Ardagh to the Chamber.

There are five pillars of Rebuilding Ireland, namely, addressing homelessness; accelerating social housing; building more homes; improving the rental sector; and utilising existing housing stock but also, and more important, lands zoned for housing. My focus is on how we will get on with building these houses but, more important, the Land Development Agency. In September, the Government announced it would establish a land development agency but as of today we have no underlying legislation or funding for this major initiative. We do not even have a memorandum, schedule or general scheme setting out what will happen. Will the Leader find out from the Minister what the intention is regarding the Land Development Agency? It is an important body. City and county councils are asking what is happening with the agency in the context of tackling the five pillars of Rebuilding Ireland. It is therefore important we have a progress report on Rebuilding Ireland because it is an ongoing process. I would like a particular focus on the Land Development Agency and the legislative arrangements surrounding it.

I take on board what Senator Ardagh said about the Barnardos report. We all received a copy of it yesterday or today. It is an important report and the facts it points out are shocking, particularly in the very detailed infographic attached to the report. If we are to have a debate, however, I would like if we could broaden it out to include the very positive Government strategy for young children and their families which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, circulated today to every Member of the Oireachtas. While we can acknowledge there are shortcomings, we must also look at the very positive things in this document, which will have arrived on everyone's desk today. There is a lot of meat and positivity in it. It is a longer plan for the next five to ten years, but we should have a debate both on the Barnardos report and the Minister's views on this visionary document.

I welcome the report of the independent auditor, Peter Smyth, which gives a clean bill of health to our national broadband plan and processes. It is now imperative we drive on to see delivery of high-speed broadband on the ground. What we are attempting here is unprecedented in terms of State intervention to ensure that all households have access to high-speed broadband. I ask that the new Minister be invited to the Chamber to set out how we will proceed from here.

I raise one significant point in this regard. Affordability for households must be at the heart of the new national broadband plan. If householders cannot afford to pay for the broadband service once the Government rolls it out, it will be a disaster. It is in the Government's interest that every household avails of a broadband service. The reason I caution the House in this regard is that Eir has rolled out and offered broadband to 200,000 households under its commercial rural deployment plan, which comes under the national plan for the roll-out of high-speed broadband, but only one in seven of these households has taken up the offer. If we do not make broadband affordable for households, we will not have broadband and we will waste billions in taxpayers' money. This is an essential element of the broadband we need to deliver in the future. I ask that the Minister be invited to the Chamber as soon as possible in order that all these issues can be clarified.

I want to join with others in congratulating our colleague, Senator Ruane, on her well-deserved award for her excellent book yesterday. It is a significant achievement and it is absolutely right that it should be recognised in the Chamber today.

I rise once again, more out of despair at this stage, to raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick. I have raised the appalling industrial relations situation at the hospital on several occasions over the past several months. As a result, I get more and more correspondence from hospital staff who are in despair. Yesterday, one nurse told me in a letter which touched me that nurses are running out of the hospital. We all know how hard it is to hire nurses. However, nurses at this hospital are actively seeking employment elsewhere and are leaving in droves. The reason is the complete lack of people management from the human resources department in the hospital.

The nurse told me in her letter that she rang six different people in human resources but none of them would help her as they said it was not their area. She tried to raise a grievance regarding other issues with her line manager but she would not acknowledge them.

The week before last the hospital also recorded the 10,000th person on a hospital trolley. It has the worst hospital trolley crisis anywhere in the country. We have a hospital management which does not function or is not fit for purpose. It consistently fails to address bullying, turning a blind eye to it and, as a result, the hospital is losing skilled nurses. Three colleagues of the nurse who wrote to me have already left over the past few months.

I am calling for a specific debate on University Hospital Limerick. Surely we should all be able to agree that this situation cannot continue. It goes beyond funding and is due to a complete incompetence at management level. It needs to be addressed. We cannot keep waiting for something to fix itself. It will not. Matters continue to get worse by the day. We urgently need action on this issue.

I too would like to congratulate my Civil Engagement colleague, Senator Ruane, on her award last night for her autobiography, People Like Me. That is the sweet part of my message this morning. The second part is sour, however.

On Monday, the first tranche of €100 million for the urban regeneration and development fund was announced. Of that, €6 million was announced for the new pedestrian bridge that will form a key part of the north quays development in Waterford city. This is a development which will alter the face and the infrastructure of the city, providing housing, jobs and renewable energy for an urban centre which has long been neglected. While this investment is welcome, it is considerably less than the €20 million requested by Waterford City and County Council. While discussing this issue with constituents and other interested parties, all agreed that Waterford could not hope to claim such a high proportion of the total disbursement due to the political optics of such a decision. Understandably this has been met with distress and concern in the city this week. People are concerned that if funding can fall short from particular revenue streams, it could endanger the entire project.

Considering the size, scope and importance of this development, incorporating significant changes to Waterford city’s transport, energy and other infrastructure, do we need to reconsider how such large-scale projects apply for funding from central government? Waterford City and County Council has made applications for co-financing to other funds, including the climate action fund. We are optimistic about a positive result. However, does the Government think that large-scale strategically important projects such as this need a dedicated investment fund to access? It would be a fund that would include funds for transport infrastructure, climate and energy adaptation and more. In order to provide greater funding certainty, the administrative burden of application could be lowered to ensure such co-funding can be delivered in a coherent and strategic manner rather than in an ad hoc way as we have seen.

The regional assemblies could, with some modification, be the perfect bodies to consider and apply for such an approach, especially under the metropolitan areas strategic plans. Considering the extreme disappointment and concern the drip-drip funding approach has created in Waterford, I would like to hear from the Leader and the Government how the existing system could be better adapted to such projects to enable them to succeed with certainty and efficiency.

I welcome Maire Ardagh to the Gallery. I served with her on a regional assembly for several years. I know her late husband, Seán, will be honoured today in the Dáil. I am sure there will be a nice tribute to him.

I congratulate Senator Ruane on her award yesterday. She has been commended by nearly every Member for her well-deserved award. I wish her all the best for the future.

I am disappointed that Senator Conway-Walsh has left the Chamber because she was sideswiping at the different regeneration funding announcements recently made. I certainly welcome the €3.8 million allocation for the Murroe community field project last week

A Senator who has left the Chamber should not be referred to. I believe Senator Conway-Walsh has other engagements. Senator Byrne can broach the topic but not refer to her while she is absent.

I apologise and withdraw it. Businesses in Murroe have closed down. With this construction project, a significant number of jobs will be created in the village. The village will also be developed as the driver of the area. The all-weather pitch will benefit all the villages in the surrounding area.

We have further investment in urban regeneration developments. Funding has been given to the Georgian area in Limerick to get people back living in the city centre. It will assist in getting Limerick to be the driver for the mid-west. All of these announcements are positive. The fact they have been announced for different towns, villages and urban areas around the country is to be most welcomed. It is not a gimmick but part of the Ireland 2040 project. During the recession many of our towns, villages and urban areas were decimated. We have to drive forward and develop them.

I congratulate Senator Ruane on winning the non-fiction book of the year award last night. We are very proud of her.

I welcome Senator Ardagh’s mother to the Gallery. We are all proud of her as she does a great job as Fianna Fáil leader in the Seanad. Maire herself was a councillor and mayor of south Dublin.

I want to impress on the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for older people that the Government is not doing enough for the elderly. Will he and the Department address the challenges in properly meeting the care needs of our oldest people? It is failing to deliver a sustained and significant increase in home care support. This week a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ motion was put forward in the Dáil. It was based on what I and my party colleagues are hearing on the doorsteps from families of older people who are struggling to provide care for their loved ones.

Long-term demand for care is continuing to grow. We now have the scandalous situation of 6,200 people waiting for their home care packages to be approved. I know from speaking to families that they are being put through great hardship in applying for and also getting the packages. Another area which I constantly raise is the carer's allowance application. People can wait from between three to eight months for the allowance which is unacceptable.

We need to have proper support in place as we are living longer. We need to be helping older people and those with disabilities, affording people if they wish the opportunity to grow old and remain in their own homes. Last week, Fianna Fáil published the Housing (Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability) Bill 2018. The Bill will provide for a decision to be made on a housing adaptation grant within four weeks from the receipt of an application to a local authority.

This is crucial. The reason I brought up these two issues today, namely, the motion and the Bill, is that this is a society where all are living longer and we need to make sure that every area is covered, from carers to grants, home care packages or whatever. We need to make sure that all of these packages are agreed. I seek the full support of the Seanad on these proposals today because they will be crucial for people in the future.

I acknowledge the wonderful contribution and the achievement by Senator Ruane last night and I acknowledge our guests in the Gallery. I also acknowledge a guest of mine in the Gallery. There is a daughter of a former Senator here in the Gallery. Denny Owen O'Sullivan was a Member of this House from 1965 to 1969 and I wish to acknowledge the presence of his daughter and his grandson here.

We have seen significant investment by the Government, in particular, in the past week, and it is important that we should acknowledge it. The rural regeneration fund, the urban fund and, today, the climate action fund are all important steps forward in Ireland's goal towards rebuilding itself to the proposed Project Ireland 2040 model. On the rural regeneration fund, €2.1 million has been made available in my home town of Kinsale for a library. It is significant funding for a worthy cause. That is the kind of investment that we need to see come into towns. It is the funding that we have lacked for the past decade. It is an example of the vision of the Government.

This morning saw the announcement of the significant climate action fund. Something I have been chasing for a long time is the significant investment required for the electric vehicle charge network and this morning we saw considerable movement towards that. With ESB Networks and its partners, €10 million is being put in place for a significant roll-out of electric vehicle charging points throughout the country. That is an example of the ambition, drive and potential that the Government has shown in the past few months and it is important that we should acknowledge it. Unfortunately, there has been somewhat negative commentary in the House today. It is important that we go forward and promote these projects and come up with further new innovative projects for society in order that we make sure, on the climate change issue, that we become carbon friendly but from the rural regeneration point of view, that we can reinvigorate our towns, which is badly required.

I call the Senator of the moment, Senator Ruane.

I wish to acknowledge the Homeless World Cup team, which I hosted yesterday in the Members dining area. I thank all who dropped in and said, "Hello". I acknowledge the Ministers, Deputies Ross and Eoghan Murphy, who spent a considerable amount of time with them in the dining room yesterday, all in our efforts to win them over to help us support the Homeless World Cup team and the Irish street leagues to bring the World Cup to Ireland in 2021. Yesterday constituted our unofficial request, I suppose, to the parties and to the staff in the Departments who can support such a bid to bring the Homeless World Cup to Ireland.

The Irish street leagues have operating for more a decade. They have played a significant contribution to the re-integration of those who have often been ostracised within their own communities and have experienced homelessness and addiction. Last year, when I went to watch the women try out for the Women's Homeless World Cup team, I was struck by the fact that I noticed some familiar faces who played alongside me in Sundrive Park when I played for Lourdes as a kid. In growing up in working-class communities and experiencing addiction and other challenges, their amazing talent was sidelined and they never got to fulfil their full potential as the amazing footballers that they were. I acknowledge the teams that visited yesterday. Hopefully, we can get behind the bid to have the World Cup here. We do not need the Aviva Stadium as it is a street league. A football and Smithfield will do but we need to raise significant funds. I acknowledge them and how well they did in the World Cup, winning the bowl.

I thank everybody who has congratulated me today. Last night, I was quite shocked to hear my name. I was in a category with former President Mary Robinson and thought there was no way I would win. The book is not only about me. It is about my community, stuff that we have experienced and stuff I thought would not be accepted by wider society. I thought I would have a fight on my hands. It was not only acceptance of me and my story but a considerable win for my community to have our experiences, narrative and story as told by someone like me, who felt a huge responsibility to tell it in a respectful way, to have the book acknowledged and to have our histories acknowledged in this way.

I am sure it will be the first of many.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir Ruane. I saw on Senator Ruane's Instagram this morning that she is feeling a bit delicate, and rightly so. The Senator has earned it. I hope all of our congratulations and commendations at least go some way to help the Senator. Well done, and fair play.

I will start by expressing my disappointment at yesterday's decision by the Cabinet to allocate the State's two additional European constituency seats to Dublin and Ireland South. The House will be aware there has been a longstanding request that the two additional seats would be allocated northwards. There is no legal or constitutional impediment on the Government taking that decision. It would stand by and affirm the Taoiseach and the Government's commitment that citizens in the North would not be left behind.

We have all agreed on a cross-party basis that we must be steadfast, clear and coherent in ensuring that there is no diminution of rights as a result of Brexit and no undermining of the Good Friday Agreement. This would have been an ideal way, certainly, the first opportunity in a practical and tangible way, and probably, when all is said and done, in quite a modest way, for the Government to live by that commitment. Given that the existing seats in the State would not have been undermined, I do not see where anyone would have any political or even electoral opposition to that. I am very disappointed.

The Government should review this decision, particularly in the context of the clear legal advice that there is no barrier to such a decision. Quite a number of states across the EU allocate panels and constituency seats to citizens outside of their particular jurisdiction. There will be much disappointment. The House will remember just a few weeks ago that over 1,000 civic leaders from within Northern nationalism wrote to the Taoiseach again and pleaded with him not to relent and to remain steadfast in defending our rights.

The most disappointing aspect is that while these seats have been taken away from us, this vote has been taken away from us. We can all agree that the most basic entitlement of any citizen is the right to elect representation. While that has been taken away from us by the British Government, it seems by the decision taken at Cabinet yesterday that the Government here is rubber-stamping that decision. It is an unfortunate decision. It is the wrong one. Hopefully, the House may, through the Leader, have an opportunity to hear directly from the Taoiseach on the issue of Brexit and the next steps before the end of this term.

It was nice to see Mrs. Maire Ardagh here this morning. I had the privilege of serving in my first term here with her late husband, Seán. I found him very helpful to me, and a pure gentleman. Mrs. Ardagh herself was a politician in Dublin South and was mayor of South County Dublin. Of course, her son, Mr. Charlie Ardagh, was also a councillor and the Fianna Fáil leader here, of whom we are proud, Catherine, completes the circle.

I am delighted to congratulate our colleague, Senator Ruane, on a considerable personal achievement for her, winning the An Post non-fiction book of the year award last night. "Where will this woman stop?", is the question I ask. It is a fair achievement for any politician to be able to write a book with no fiction in it. I have read the book and it is a wonderful read. Senator Ruane has come from very difficult circumstances to achieve so much in such a short lifetime. As I say, what will that woman do next? Well done, Senator Ruane.

Finally, I would like to be associated with the remarks of Senator Lawless this morning on the prospect of additional visas for Irish emigrants.

Senator Lawless has put a significant amount of work into this through his many contacts across the USA, along with the designated special envoy, Deputy Deasy. I also pay tribute to Senator Mark Daly, who held this brief before me. He also has a lot of contacts throughout the United States. I do not have the benefit of that level of contact-----

-----but I do pledge my support, that of the Fianna Fáil Party and, I am sure, of all Members here, in a non-partisan way. It is very hard to second-guess what another House of Parliament will do. We cannot second-guess what will happen in Westminster and neither can we second-guess what will happen this evening in Capitol Hill, but we hope for a very good outcome. I will leave it at that.

Before I call the Leader, I acknowledge the presence of family members of the late great Senator Dinny Owen O'Sullivan, as he was affectionately known. He was almost from my own neck of the woods. His daughter and grandson are very welcome here. I hope they will enjoy the visit and that Senator Lombard does not lead them too much astray. I wish them a good day here.

I wish to clarify the position on No. 2, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, Committee Stage (resumed), which is to be taken at 1.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 1. No. 1 is to conclude at 1.30 p.m. anyway. The Bill will be adjourned at 6 p.m. I take it that, irrespective of anything else, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill will start at 1.30 p.m. and conclude or adjourn at 6 p.m. I call the Leader to respond.

I hope it will conclude, a Chathaoirligh.

It is out of my control.

It is in the control of some who are not here in the House. On a very sad note, I join the Members of the House who offered their sympathies to the young man who was tragically killed in Castleblayney this morning. On my own behalf and that of the Fine Gael Party in the House, I offer our sympathies to his family and pay tribute to a member of An Garda Síochána who demonstrated, in his act of heroism, the service members of An Garda Síochána do day in and day out. Like Senator Gallagher, I remember him and his family in our prayers and thoughts.

I warmly welcome Marie and Savi O'Sullivan to the House and thank them for being here. We all remember Dinny Owen O'Sullivan and the work that he did. In a different way Marie is continuing the great service and tradition. They are very welcome and I thank them for being here.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the House I warmly congratulate our colleague and friend, Senator Ruane, on her magnificent victory last night. I would love to have heard her speech. I congratulate her on her wonderful award. Her book is a wonderful testament to her courage, strength, perseverance and vision. She is an inspiration to many. I am not sure where Senator Ned O'Sullivan wants to put her in the future, but from a political point of view I hope we can keep her off our panels or constituencies wherever we run. I wish her every success and thank her most sincerely.

Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the Barnardos report that was published yesterday. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue. The Government is committed to improving services and supports for all young people, especially in the area of speech and language therapy. On Monday I and other Members of the Oireachtas met representatives of the special needs schools in Cork. It is important that we would have a review of the Curc report in terms of the allocation of funding and the model of special needs schools and special needs education. Significant investment is being made by the Government.

Sometimes Members of the House accuse me of being political but they should reflect upon the decade that we lost because of the reckless management of the country, which drove people away, cut services and curtailed development. That is the Fianna Fáil legacy and they should reflect upon that. That is the reason this Government and the previous one are investing €1.81 billion in health and personal social services. An extra €150 million will be provided next year for disability services to bring the funding to almost €2 billion in total for disability services, along with increased funding of €2.5 million for the provision of 100 new therapy posts. I accept we have backlogs and difficulties, but from listening to some Members, one would imagine the Government was not spending any money on people who need it. We will continue to invest and I will continue to advocate. We will have a debate on the report.

I commend Senator Lawless on his work on behalf of the undocumented Irish emigrants in the United States. Like Senators Feighan and Gallagher, I hope that today is not another false dawn and that the work of Deputy Deasy and others on Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, will bring good news. As Senator Lawless said, the E3 visa Bill would allow us to benefit from the lack of take-up by Australians. I hope today's vote is a successful one. I wish all involved every success.

Many Senators referred to broadband. They included Senators Conway-Walsh, Feighan, Mulherin, Lombard and Gavan. I remind Senator Conway-Walsh that in all of the contributions the Sinn Féin Party made about broadband, never once did it offer a solution. Sinn Féin Members go back to the fact that Fianna Fáil sold Eircom, which we all agree was a mistake, but they never put forward a solution as to how we arrive at full broadband coverage. I have always found Senator Gavan to be fair minded.

In the north of our country 50,000 people have no basic broadband service. That is 7% of properties with no broadband coverage. It is the highest of any region within the United Kingdom.

Will Fine Gael be running?

Hold on a second. Senator Gavan should let me finish.

Is Fine Gael running candidates?

Senator Gavan should let me finish.

That is a no then.

The Leader should be allowed to speak.

That includes the areas of Fermanagh, Omagh and mid-Ulster. A total of 100,000 properties have no access to super-fast broadband. I accept that 540,000 properties in this jurisdiction need to get broadband. That is the reason the Taoiseach has said that is a priority. When the Government came into power in 2016, a total of 1.2 million or 52% of properties had access to high-speed broadband, and today the number has increased to 1.7 million or 74% of premises.

The Fine Gael Party is not running enough candidates. Fine Gael is a partitionist party. That is the problem.

One can use the typical Sinn Féin-----

Come up and join us, Leader.

Members should please speak through the Chair.

That is the typical Sinn Féin response. When its members do not want to hear the real news, they throw out the usual mantra that is given to them from west Belfast.

Come up and join us.

A total of 1.2 million in 2016-----

(Interruptions).

Gabh mo leithscéal.

We just ignore them.

We will just let them continue on with what they are doing.

The Leader should continue with his response.

Some of Senator Ned O'Sullivan's colleagues did not do so last week. The Government is committed to reaching the 540,000 premises that require broadband services. That is the reason we are determined that broadband will be rolled out. I am amused at Senator Conway-Walsh being able to tell us the number of announcements. She should look at her own party's achievement in the North, where the party will not even go into government and its elected MPs will not even take their seats in Westminster.

No, we will not take our seats in Westminster.

Then this morning Senator Ó Donnghaile came in looking for more seats for the European Parliament. It is hypocrisy at its best.

Says the chief abstainer.

It is hypocrisy at its best.

When will the Leader run out of views on the North?

The difficulty-----

Fine Gael are abstentionists.

The difficulty Sinn Féin has is that when it suited its political narrative, its members went into the Dáil, Seanad and European Parliament, and when, having opposed every European treaty since we joined the EU, they discovered that Europe was good for Ireland, they suddenly became pro-Europe. In fairness, Sinn Féin is doing some U-turns.

You need to check our party policy, Leader.

I have checked your party policy.

No, you have not.

No, you have not. You are an old spoofer.

We are not going to settle this matter through the Order of Business.

Perhaps the Sinn Féin Party would prefer to have no broadband so its members can keep coming in here and berating the fact that while we have made significant improvement, we have more to do.

Senators Norris and Feighan made reference to the issue of the Hauntings Soldier monument located near the Fusiliers' Arch in St. Stephen's Green. The desecration of the monument was a disgrace. I agree with Senator Feighan that we should erect a memorial of some type of scale and I concur with the remarks made by both Senators this morning.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of Rebuilding Ireland and the Land Development Agency. The Bill is going through pre-legislative scrutiny and the Minister aims to publish it by year's end.

Senators Mulherin, Byrne, Lombard and Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the urban regeneration and development fund totalling €2 billion that was announced last Monday. The fund will ensure that large urban towns located outside Dublin are rejuvenated. As many as 80% of the projects and 85% of the moneys have been allocated to the regions and beyond Dublin. The first phase of the allocations have been announced. I understand the frustration expressed by Senator Grace O'Sullivan because I know that a number of projects in Cork were not included in the scheme. I am heartened by the fact that a new phase will begin in February. As Senator Lombard referenced, an announcement was made today about the rural regeneration fund, climate action fund and disruptive technologies innovation fund and is part of Ireland 2040. I confirm that Ireland 2040 seeks to create, in a climate-friendly way, sustainable development in all parts of the country but, in particular, outside of Ireland. Today's announcement of a climate action fund amounting to €500 million will drive many projects. I assure Senator Grace O'Sullivan that I will invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the fund.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of the University Hospital Limerick. He will appreciate, notwithstanding my next comment, that I do not have a role in industrial relations and neither does this House. A Commencement matter might be the way forward for him. In terms of the points that he made, and I have made my point before, one cannot tolerate or condone bad work practices. I am not saying that everything that he has said is as presented and I am sure that the management concerned would have a different viewpoint. I am not familiar with the issue but there are industrial relations mechanisms within the State that should be utilised. Again, it is important that we have the debate.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised a very important issue concerning older people. However, she did not recognise the additional 550 care packages that have been announced by the Minister for Health and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly. She did not recognise the extra €4 million in aids and appliances that is being made available. She also did not recognise the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, hosted a very important conference on housing for older people at Farmleigh House in Dublin last week. I am happy to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the matter.

For the benefit of Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Lombard who raised the matter of climate action, I intend to invite the Minister to come here next week to discuss climate change and I shall confirm the date. I assure them that the Minister will come to the House to discuss climate change.

I commend Senator Ruane on her very positive initiative that occurred yesterday. I am sorry that I could not be in the House on that occasion. It is important that we recognise that sport brings people together and gives them an identity whether they are homeless or soccer or international rugby players.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the additional constituency seats in Europe. I find it ironic that Sinn Féin seeks more seats when its party members will not take their seats in Westminster or go into government in the North. He failed to recognise that the Government established an independent commission, chaired by Mr. Justice Haughton, and made a recommendation to Government. As Senator Gavan knows, in terms of electoral boundaries for local government, Dáil or Europe, the independent commission is comprised of many eminent people including the Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad and others, to name but a few, and they sit independently to make a recommendation. I do not believe that I have ever seen a Government reject an independent review or report, and I did not think it was going to happen yesterday.

I think I have addressed the remarks made by Senator Ned O'Sullivan and I hope I have not left anybody out. Again, I welcome our distinguished guests to the Gallery. I thank everybody for their warm words of acknowledgement and affirmation for Senator Ruane. We are very proud of her and congratulations.

So say all of us.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.35 p.m and resumed at 12.45 p.m.