Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2018 (Certified Money Bill) - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; and No. 2, Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 2.15 p.m. or at the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and adjourned not later than 10 p.m., if not previously concluded.

With your indulgence, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I welcome the ladies from the Ballinascarthy branch of the ICA.

I refer to the National Maternity Hospital and the controversy about its construction. The new hospital was announced five years ago and €150 million was put aside for its construction. Construction costs have increased to €300 million since. There is no doubt that the new hospital is urgently needed. Conditions in Holles Street Hospital are not suitable for the more than 8,000 women who give birth in it. The Minister for Health needs to come to the House today or as soon as possible to clarify the position on the construction of the National Maternity Hospital. There is so much misinformation and confusion about it that I would like him to clarify the exact position for Members. There is also a lot of public concern. There appears to be a major rush to start construction of the new hospital before the end of the year. We are told that because of the changing EU regulations for publicly funded projects such as this they must have zero emissions, although that has not been stated officially. We need clarification on that issue.

We have also learned that the Sisters of Charity have yet to hand over the land for the new hospital to the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. It was decided that they would do this 18 months ago following a public outcry, but it has yet to be done. We are told unofficially that the papers will be lodged in the coming weeks with the Charities Regulator and the Companies Registration Office. It must be done before the Minister can sign off on the project. It would be irresponsible of him to do so without it being done. The Sisters of Charity have had 18 months in which to do so, but it has still not been done. We need clarification on the reason it has not been done. There were some reports that they needed Vatican approval before they could divest any property. I would like the Minister to make reference to the issue and clarify the point.

We have learned in the media that there seems to be a pushback against the Minister's attempts to appoint a public interest director to the board of the new hospital which we are building at a cost of €300 million. It will be completely publicly funded, as will the administration of healthcare. Therefore, we need clarification on whether there will be a public interest director on the board. In recent years public interest directors have been appointed to the boards of various banks that we funded during the economic collapse and that seemed to be unable to function because directors' legal responsibility was to the board, not anybody else. We need clarification on whether there will be a public interest director on the board of the new hospital and, if so, if he or s he will have powers to act.

It is very important that we get everything right in the construction of the National Maternity Hospital. For too long, women have been sidelined and their healthcare has been treated as a second-class issue. We need to get this right for women and the children who will be born in the new hospital in the next 100 to 200 years. It is vital that the Minister address the issue. I am well aware that he is very busy this week and has been in recent weeks in dealing with urgently needed legislation, but this issue is tangential and also urgent. As there is a great deal of public concern about it, the Minister should clarify the Government's position on it.

I refer to the perfect storm for the agriculture sector, in particular the farm families who live in the shadow of Brexit, arising from delayed payments, the prospect of another harsh winter, a possible fodder shortage and unworkable land due to flooding. I welcome the review of areas of natural constraints, ANC, carried out recently and the additional funding of €23 million.

Unless there is additional funding to front-load payments, an increased payment rate per hectare and an increase in the number of eligible acres, this will not have the necessary effect of addressing the level of constraints experienced by farmers in marginal areas. The bottom line is that there needs to be further targeting of payments towards the areas with the highest level of natural constraint. Last Friday, I attended a meeting in Mayo along with hundreds of farmers, which was organised by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association and at which all of these concerns were discussed. I was astounded that there was no Government representative or Fianna Fáil representative from County Mayo in attendance. Given the importance of the issue and the challenges facing the sector, the meeting should have been prioritised.

In the previous reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, we saw minimal redistribution as farmers with larger and higher payments were protected again. The forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy must right some of the wrongs of the past by ensuring that farmers can make a reasonable living while keeping the rural economy alive, promoting jobs and farming in the agricultural industries and associated sectors. Last year, Ireland made a commitment to provide extra funding for CAP. I urge the Government to honour that commitment by making up any shortfall and ensuring that there is an annual budget in excess of €650 million.

The agricultural schemes need to be more accessible. The organic scheme that opened last week will close next week, on 19 December. Such a short application period excludes a large number of people who would like to participate in the scheme. The marginal land, which was not eligible for the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, could be suitable for this type of scheme. The livestock rate of 0.5 per unit is too high and the marking system of the scheme favours horticulture and dairy, which get 50 marks while beef and sheep only get then marks. This excludes many farmers. The Government needs to consider these schemes and find ways to make them more accessible.

I am gravely concerned about the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, participants because their last payment will be made this month and there are no plans to replace the scheme. These farmers stayed in the AEOS as GLAS was not viable for them. We need a new scheme because farmers who are in the scheme are facing a loss of between €3,000 and €4,000, which is an awful lot out of anybody's income. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House early in the new year to discuss all of these farming issues.

I echo Senator Clifford-Lee's concerns about the national maternity hospital. As she said, we need some clarity from the Minister for Health as to what will be the position with the hospital. Clearly, women need a new and fit-for-purpose maternity hospital. However, there are still valid concerns about the connections between the Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. There is still an issue regarding the appointment of a public interest director. Even though many of us would query how strong a public interest director could be, it is a real worry agreement has not been reached on the appointment of one at this point. It would be useful to have clarity on this matter. This issue also raises a bigger question about the separation of church and State, and the need to ensure State ownership of hospitals and schools in a country where the Catholic Church retains ownership of the vast majority of primary school lands and many other premises that should be under State control.

Brexit is the biggest political issue facing this country and Britain. Some of us predicted that the vote that was to have taken place in the House of Commons tonight would be postponed given that Prime Minister Theresa May would have been defeated by a large majority. I was not surprised, therefore, that she deferred the vote. However, the real worry for us is that Irish interests may become a bargaining chip in the negotiations between Britain and the European Union. Clearly, that cannot be allowed to happen. As the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said this morning, it is crucial that the Taoiseach holds firm and we see absolutely no watering down of the commitment on the backstop. That is essential. There is a cross-party and all-party political agreement on that matter, certainly in this jurisdiction.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the new year on the recent climate change performance index report that ranked Ireland as the worst country in the EU in terms of performance on climate change on a whole range of indicators. The report shows that, far from being a leader in tackling climate change, Ireland is a laggard. The Government needs to take urgent action on this matter. Last Friday, I spoke at a protest organised by Labour Youth, Young Greens Ireland and others. It was a red-green alliance and we called on the Government to take substantive steps to tackle climate change. It is most disappointing that there was no action on carbon tax in the most recent budget. As the Leader knows, there are four Private Members' Bills before the Dáil that the Government could sign up to, all of which would make a contribution to tackling climate change and moving towards emissions reduction. We are performing badly and there seems to be little political will to do anything about this in government. We need an urgent debate on this matter, specifically on the new report which confirmed how poorly this country is performing when compared with the rest of the EU.

What do the recent Fine Gael Árd Fheis and "The Late Late Show" broadcast last Friday nigh have in common? One thing is that on both occasions the Taoiseach correctly referenced the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as one of the achievements of this Government. I was delighted to hear that. However, it is important that everyone from the top down - all Ministers, senior departmental officials and others - get the message that the treaty that we have bound ourselves to is now part of the business of every Department and public body, and that they all have work to do on it.

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As I have said previously, this was the first human rights treaty introduced by the United Nations after it was established following the calamity of the Second World War when the Nazis killed and exterminated more than 300,000 people with disabilities. Many of these people were German citizens, and it is sad that the Nazis did not see them as such. Life unworthy of living is what they called people with disabilities, people who were infirm and so on. Six decades later, the UN had to return to the issue of the human rights of people with disabilities because states had still not managed to make these rights happen for people. I will quote a little piece written by Eleanor Roosevelt, the chairperson of the committee that drafted the convention. When asked where do human rights begin she said:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.

Ireland and all the states of the world have to address an issue they have not really got to grips with in the past 60 or 70 years by implementing the convention. I respectfully ask the Leader to arrange for the Taoiseach to come to the House and make a statement outlining the plan and ambition in all Departments to implement the convention. I make my request to the Taoiseach as the Head of Government. He said he would ratify the convention as soon as he was appointed and did so within a handful of months.

I will raise one substantive issue before referring to the issue raised by Senator Bacik. There is an issue in rural Ireland at the moment.

I want the Leader to respond to this and put it to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. There is an issue with mobile coverage in rural Ireland. It is very sporadic and there are blackspots. One can drive to areas where there is no mobile coverage. I know of three or four areas with no mobile coverage within a very short radius of my home in County Cavan. The situation is replicated throughout County Monaghan and various parts of rural Ireland. The solution must be further investment by the private sector. The Government and, specifically, ComReg have a duty in this respect to make it clear to these providers that they should provide comprehensive coverage and, insofar as there is a deficit, invest in sorting that out. If Government intervention is necessary to decentralise jobs and develop the regions and rural Ireland, so be it. At a minimum, we need mobile coverage to maintain a quality of life. The significant agenda is broadband but this is a real agenda as well, so I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss this issue and to talk to him in the meantime.

In respect of the issue raised by Senator Bacik, I agree fully that we must hold firm on the Northern Ireland backstop. I am sure she was as reassured as I was this morning to hear the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade commit himself very clearly to that task and the comments of the Taoiseach yesterday. The Senator is correct. From a Border perspective and as somebody from Cavan-Monaghan, I can say that it is a real issue for us and that we must hold firm because we must maintain a normal economy, normal Border crossing and normal life there. The peace process also hinges on it. My good colleague, Senator Dolan, referenced the specific commitment to human rights under the UN. We need the backstop to preserve human rights in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.

I want to raise an issue I have raised on numerous occasions, namely, the motorised transport grant. It relates to the issue raised by Senator Dolan regarding people with disabilities. These grants were suspended in 2013. They allowed people to get to work and allowed families to care for their loved ones in their own homes and to bring them to appointments and hospitals. It was suspended in May 2013 and was to have been restored by October of that year. We are approaching the end of 2018 and have seen the biggest spending on health this country has ever seen, but there does not seem to be anything on the horizon with regard to restoring the motorised transport grant. Essentially, it saves the taxpayer money because some of the people who availed of that grant were able to remain outside of hospital care, a situation that changed when it was suspended. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come to the House to outline the situation regarding the motorised transport grant? I have raised it as a Commencement Matter on numerous occasions.

On a happier note, a sports story uplifted the nation over the weekend. I congratulate Mullinalaghta on defeating Kilmacud Crokes in the Leinster senior football club final. I have nothing against Kilmacud Crokes. I admire it as a fantastic club but its club area covers an area with the same population of Leitrim while Mullinalaghta is a club from a small half parish with 440 people that epitomised what can be done if one takes on the world as underdog. I commend it and both I and the country rejoiced. Anyone with an interest in sport saw the club's joy and its return to its native village crossroads. It is not just the story of the year; it is the story of the decade in many respects.

We will debate the Finance Bill later today. As is often the case, particularly with Finance Bills, I was disappointed to have a number of my proposals for areas that should be looked at and debated ruled out of order either because they were considered to be a potential charge on the State, did not arise out of Committee Stage or were not relevant. I know this is a decision of the Cathaoirleach but I am indicating a few areas that I had hoped would be debated and that I would ask the Leader to ensure are debated on the floor of the House in the new year if they cannot debated in the context of the Finance Bill.

In particular, I was very disappointed to see that my amendments relating to Part 4 tenancies and the eviction of Part 4 tenants under the refurbishment exemption were not considered relevant given that the phrasing I used very much looked to the fact that they are relevant because the Government is giving tax relief for refurbishment. We know this is one of those areas that has been abused as a loophole to ensure people are pressed out of their houses and the rent can then be raised under a new tenancy. There is a real concern that we may have given a perverse incentive in this regard. Again, I find bizarre the idea that tenants and their security are not relevant to a tax relief for landlords.

The other issue we will not be debating in the context of the Finance Bill but where I hope the Leader might facilitate a debate either next week or in January is carbon tax, especially carbon tax on commercial activities. It has been very much spoken about on an individual basis and we have the EU emissions trading scheme, but there are a large number of commercial activities that are not covered under this scheme. I would appreciate it if we could have a debate on this. I will build on something Senator Humphreys said, which is that the transition statements last week were a disgrace. They were a disgrace with regard to fulfilling adequately the obligation, which we had last year and the previous year, whereby each Minister would come to the House to give a statement regarding what he or she is doing in terms of adjustment, transition and dealing with climate change, and to answer questions. Instead, we had a set piece involving a few little statements from Ministers who immediately left the House. I am adding to Senator Humphreys's comments by saying that I will certainly be pressing for all Ministers to come in and have a proper debate on each of their briefs in terms of what they are doing. In the newspapers today, we are looking at Ireland being called out again, ranked 48th out of 60 countries, and being the worst country in Europe in terms of our carbon emissions and what we are doing on climate change. The bells are ringing in alarm with regard to climate change so I ask the Leader to facilitate a lengthy debate with the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, a debate on carbon tax and a return to the House by each of the Ministers to speak about what they intend to do in respect of climate change.

I rise to discuss the issue of our small towns and villages. We have an issue with urban and village renewal. It has been shown that we need to promote our towns as best we can. I raise this issue in light of what happened in Bandon, one of our gateway towns in west Cork, last night. A building on Oliver Plunkett Street in the town fell down. This was a very significant structure that the local authority cordoned off yesterday. It collapsed overnight. We need to look at our structures throughout our villages, and our town and village renewal scheme needs to look at the structures, their history and what can be done to maintain and develop these town centres. I was going to do my usual routine and ask the Minister to come to the House but I do not think it is appropriate in this case. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, needs to come to Bandon and look at the town and its structures because we need action on the ground and we need to see what can be done in the long term so that the incident that occurred yesterday in Bandon does not reoccur. These are gateway towns. Structures like these need to be looked at by the local authority.

The local authority did a very capable job in cordoning off the location yesterday. We do, however, have to examine if local authorities throughout Ireland have buildings such as these on a register. We also have to ask how structurally safe are they. There are issues we need to look at.

We have dereliction in many of our towns and villages. This €2 billion urban renewal scheme needs to be rolled out and progressed so these buildings can be examined and villages and towns developed. It needs to be done so that we can solve part of our housing and economic problems. One aspect of our economic problem is that we have big developments in towns and in cities such as Cork, Dublin and Limerick. The smaller towns, however, are not developing. We need to have a real look at how we develop in that respect. The Leader might ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to come to Bandon, examine what can be done and see if something can be done on the ground in respect of the renewal scheme so that there can be some movement in respect of these gateway towns.

I join my colleague, Senator O'Mahony, in congratulating Mullinalaghta GAA club. Its victory brought great joy and pride to every town, village and rural area around the country, and indeed to every city as well. It showed what can be done. I am talking about the spirit of Gaelic football, the club and the community and what that means. I come from a neighbouring county and I was in Longford yesterday. It was possible to see that it had transcended rural Ireland. I again congratulate a great bunch of lads and a great community team.

I also agree with Senator Bacik. We are in a very difficult situation. What is happening now, in our lifetime, is very serious. We have had the postponing of the vote in London on the withdrawal agreement. The EU, however, is our staunch supporter and we must stand firm in ensuring, in any withdrawal agreement, that the Irish backstop will be included. We need cool heads and to work together in the coming months. I hope that it is months but, as someone said, it could be years. We might not get to the bottom of this Brexit situation for many years to come.

On working together, I have Dr. Greg Munro, chief executive of the Royal Commonwealth Society, coming into Leinster House this Thursday from 5 p.m. until 6.30 p.m. I invite my colleagues and anybody who is interested to come along. It might give an insight into all aspects of the modern Commonwealth of Nations. There are 53 member states and, of those, 32 are republics. The Commonwealth consists of 2.2 billion people, which is 30% of the population of the world. We have a common legal system, similar political institutions and a shared language. It advances bilateral, multicultural and multilateral connections in diplomacy, trade, development, culture and sport. It is the Commonwealth of Nations, for anyone who may not be familiar with it. It is not the British Commonwealth. Of the people born on the island of Ireland, 70% reside in countries which are members of the Commonwealth, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK. If people have anything to ask on Thursday, they are more than welcome to come into the Members' private dining room between 5 p.m. and 6.30 p.m.

I thank the Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. All of us this morning stand united in our hope and our desire that the issue of Brexit will be resolved. I again commend the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on their sure-footedness on the issue of Brexit. The decision to postpone the vote in Westminster is the business of the British Houses of Parliament. The deadline of 29 March 2019 still looms. As a country, we have worked with our European colleagues and friends to reach the deal that was presented to all parties involved. The Taoiseach and Mr. Donald Tusk spoke yesterday. It is fair to say that all of us recognise that the withdrawal agreement is the best option for us and that it should not be renegotiated. As I said here before, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. I hope that when the Heads of State meet again this Thursday, they will recognise the importance of Ireland.

Senators Clifford-Lee and Bacik raised the important issue of the National Maternity Hospital. It is important to acknowledge the concerns people have about this new campus. I also ask Members to recall the remarks made last Saturday by Dr. Rhona Mahony on the Marian Finucane programme. Dr. Mahony spoke about the fact that the religious order in question did not ask to be and will not be involved in the running of the new hospital. She also stated that canon law will be irrelevant to the new facility on the campus of St. Vincent's hospital. I take great comfort from the words of Dr. Mahony, the outgoing master of the National Maternity Hospital. She is somebody I have worked with and have seen at close hand. It is important we understand that the religious order in question has not sought to be involved and it does not have any involvement. The land has been given free of charge.

A contract deadline is due on 31 December. It behoves everybody to ensure that contract is signed. The terms of the agreement reached by the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group and the National Maternity Hospital on the relocation to the Elm Park campus refer to there being a national maternity hospital. The new company will have clinical and operational, as well as financial and budgetary, independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecological and neonatal services. In 2017, the Sisters of Charity announced that it would not have ownership or a role in respect of the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. I welcome that historical decision. This is a significant investment by the Government. It needs to be prioritised and I hope that it will happen. I will be very happy to have the Minister for Health come to the House in due course for a debate on that issue.

I support the point made by Senator Clifford-Lee on public interest directors in all aspects of what we try to do. Some of the public interest directors we have had in the banking system have actually done a good job for the State. She is right, however, that more independent public interest directors need to be involved. They can do a very good job for the State. I concur with her on that.

Senator Conway-Walsh sounds a bit like the prophet of doom and gloom. She is similar to the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament when it comes to farming.

Senator Buttimer is well named.

That is because he is from Cork-----

-----with all of the big farmers.

Senator Conway-Walsh fails to recognise that the significant review of areas of natural constraint, ANCs, was welcomed. All of the farming groups I have read about have welcomed the ANC review.

On the issue of payment, we are ahead of the curve in Europe and leading with the single farm payment. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, recently announced the pre-payment of aid to farmers.

I hope Senator Conway-Walsh's clairvoyance regarding the weather is not accurate. We cannot plan for the weather from the forecast. We can, though, do what the Minister has done, which is to plan for all provisos. He is doing that. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in due course. I do not share the Senator's dystopian view of the world of agriculture. It is important to recognise there has been much positivity in agriculture, notwithstanding the issues of climate that we have had to endure this year, whether bad or overly hot weather.

I cannot comment on the absence of people at meetings, but the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is very much on the ground in Mayo, as the Senator is aware. Senator Mulherin is also. I cannot comment on others. I am sure Senator Conway-Walsh will keep them on their toes anyway.

I will do my best.

Senators Bacik, O'Reilly and Feighan all mentioned the issue of Brexit. It is important and is also important that we all stand together and wear the green jersey.

The issue of climate change was raised by Senators Higgins and Bacik. The report on climate change performance is disappointing from an Irish perspective. There is no point saying it is not. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has acknowledged that we are far off course in our response to climate change. Since he has been appointed, however, he has secured Government approval to develop an all-Government plan to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. The plan will have actions across all sectors of society and all Departments. It will also have timelines with clear lines of responsibility.

The report that has been published reinforces the urgency of the Minister's work and that of the all-party Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action. The committee has strong members from this House. The committee is due to report back on 22 January or as close to then as it can. It is the biggest issue we have to face and I am confident that we will do that.

Senator Dolan welcomed the decision of Government and Parliament to sign up to the universal convention and acknowledged that the Taoiseach has done so. A request from me, as Leader of the House, has gone to the Taoiseach asking him to come to the House. I hope he will be here in the new year and that as part of his address he will speak about the matters Senator Dolan has raised. It is important that Senator Dolan has raised these matters.

Senator O'Reilly raised the issue of mobile telephone coverage. To be fair to Senator O'Reilly, he has raised the matter on more than one occasion in the House. It is a matter of major concern for people not only in rural Ireland but in parts of urban built Ireland where there have been issues of poor mobile telephone coverage as well. I welcome the fact that Eir has committed €150 million in the roll-out of 4G broadband. Eir maintains this investment will cover 99% of the population. A new operator, Cignal, is putting in a €25 million investment for 300 new towers. Investment in infrastructure is important and I welcome the provision of moneys by both companies.

Senator O'Reilly is correct to say that parts of Cavan have poor coverage and this needs to be followed up by the companies. He has raised the matter before.

They will not even answer the telephone. The Senator is right about that.

Private communications companies.

Sorry, Senator Conway-Walsh. Senator Buttimer may welcome interventions but I cannot allow you back in. The Leader to respond, without interruption.

For once the intervention is good and I welcome it. Senator Conway-Walsh is right. To be fair to all public representatives, we know there is an issue with customer care in some parts and with some private telephone operators. They have a duty to work with people to ensure queries and concerns are met. I full agree with Senator Conway-Walsh. If I was to telephone one of these companies and I got through within 20 minutes, I would be doing well. God be with the old days when, if I pressed the button, I could get my money back. Now, I have to press the button to go further without even getting to speak to someone. That is rather disconcerting. I was on the telephone to Eir.

(Interruptions).

The Chair cannot welcome interventions. I am bound otherwise.

I know of a frustrated person who was in the front room at home on a Monday morning - the same could apply to any morning or to a person of any age or description. The person had to wait 49 minutes to get hold of an operator to speak about an issue with a bill. That is only one example that I can quote from – it comes from an experience I have had personally. People can spend 90 minutes waiting to speak to an operator or customer service person. That is not good enough given that we are investing millions of euro. The fundamental point is that the customer, in some cases, may not have the wherewithal to go through the various steps to get to talk to an agent. We must make it easier and simpler for people to engage rather than more difficult. The same applies to banking. A person now walks into personless banks to lodge funds.

It is the same with supermarkets.

It applies to supermarkets as well. Not everyone uses online banking. Not everyone is proficient in the online world and it is important that companies take cognisance of that. We maintain we want to improve our quality of life as a society. However, half the stress that people have to endure derives, in some cases, from dealing with these faceless corporations.

I am disappointed with the remarks of Senator Higgins regarding the climate change statements last week. We need to ensure that we have statements on climate change. I would be happy to discuss the issues she raised regarding the Finance Bill as we go along.

Senator Lombard raised the important issue of the urban village renewal scheme. He made a request for the Minister to go to Bandon. I would be happy to take up that issue with the Minister for Senator Lombard.

I wish to remind the House that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has announced and secured funding from Government for a variety of schemes under the town and village renewal scheme. They will benefit towns.

I commend Senator Feighan on reaching out across the political divide and on building bridges. The visit this week of Mr. Munro is to be welcomed and I thank him for that. I hope people will attend.

I think I have answered all the questions, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

On a personal note, I wish to congratulate the Mullinalaghta St. Columba's club on its wonderful success. It underlines the importance of the pride of the parish and the half-parish. Charles Kickham and "Pride of the Parish" illustrate the importance of the GAA.

He was a good Tipperary man.

Last Sunday we saw six sets of brothers play. The club draws from a population of 440 people. The team could well be playing Dr. Crokes in later times, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

You had better not overlook Senator O'Mahony.

It illustrates the importance of community and sport.

The team will be meeting a new club next time.

Senator Gabrielle McFadden reminded me that the team is from County Longford, a good midlands county. The importance of sport and community is something we should herald today as well. My apologies for not recognising Mullinalaghta. I congratulate the club again.

I asked about the motorised transport grant.

I am sorry I did not see that. The Minister is before the Committee on Public Petitions. There is an ongoing issue with the matter but I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.

Let there be no more interruptions, please.

We have loads of time.

That is immaterial.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.15 p.m. and resumed at 12.55 p.m.