The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Thursday, 13 December 2018 and Tuesday, 18 December 2018, to be taken without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the fifth programme of law reform - referral to joint committee, to be taken without debate; No. 3, Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contribution of groups spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 4, Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m.; No. 5, Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018 – Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4 and to adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 6, Private Members' business, Children’s Digital Protection Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and not to exceed two hours; and No. 7, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business. I note his optimism that No. 7 might conclude before 9 p.m.
I hope my optimism is shared.
I am always optimistic, although sometimes my optimism is misplaced.
We could not have a conversation today without discussing Brexit. The position seems to have gone from bad to worse again. Prime Minister Theresa May now faces a motion of no confidence and will not come to Dublin today after all. I see no benefit, from the perspective of people in the United Kingdom, Ireland or the European Union, in the Prime Minister being replaced by someone else at this stage. I wish her well in her battle and hope she wins it. If she does, under Tory Party rules, the matter will put to bed for at least a year. Mrs. May has a difficult task. We all need some certainty into the future and I hope she defeats the motion.
I was at two events during the week attended by the former British Prime Minister, John Major. Mr. Major spoke in Longford on Monday at an event marking 25 years of the Downing Street Declaration. That is something on which the House may wish to reflect. We marked 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, and it was important that we did so, but the work Albert Reynolds and John Major did in 1993 to secure the Downing Street Declaration was also important and we should remember it. I also attended an event organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs at which John Major stated the UK should revoke Article 50, stop the clock, return to the start and examine what should and must be done. I echo those sentiments as, I expect, others may do in their contributions.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has engaged in another kite-flying exercise, this time regarding penalty points. He has decided not to go through the transport committee and to ignore pre-legislative scrutiny by making an announcement to distract people from the fact that he is not doing anything else in his Department.
Stepaside Garda station is reopening.
It is not open yet and it will not be anything like what it was either.
We need a much more nuanced and thorough approach on penalty points. We also need proportionality. We need to consider the idea of targeting repeat offenders differently from people who are caught for the first time. For instance, the case of someone caught speeding by a detection van in a transition zone where the speed limit changes quickly from 120 km/h to 50 or 60 km/h is slightly different from somebody caught travelling at 180 km/h on a motorway. There are also very different road conditions. There are speed limits of 60 km/h on the Stillorgan dual carriageway, yet many rural roads have speed limits of 80 km/h. We need proper speed limits and we must consider proportionality and how much people can afford to pay in fines. In Finland and Sweden, fines are based on earnings, which means those with a lot of money are hit more than those with very little money. That is not to say that people on small incomes should be speeding but income should be taken into consideration. Much can be done on speeds. As Senator Paddy Burke said, in ten years we will have driverless cars and all kinds of technology keeping an eye on us. However, one would hardly be caught speeding in Dublin because one can hardly get around the place. There are major tailbacks everywhere.
There are more people in work.
There are more people in cars anyway because insufficient public transport has been provided. Buses in Dublin are full.
I ask the Senator to reach a conclusion.
I also wanted to mention climate change, on which Ireland has been ranked the worst in Europe by a fair margin. We need to deal with this issue.
There is really nothing more I need to say other than that.
Finally, this Christmas many people will be buying gift vouchers or will be looking at that. Legislation has been stalled relating to expiry dates and so on. I gather the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, was dealing with it at one stage. Will the Leader indicate where that legislation is?
I appeal to people to exercise caution. They are nice to get and use but they often end up in drawers unspent. Companies change hands, restaurants go out of business and people lose their money. I appeal to people to ensure when they get them that they use them up and enjoy them.
The first thing I wish to mention this morning is that in the course of yesterday afternoon and evening, the Seanad reform implementation group completed its work. I hope to be in a position to circulate to the Taoiseach and to Members of the Oireachtas the final text of our work within the next seven days. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Members of this House for their co-operation and enthusiastic support for the work of the group and to indicate to them that their constructive approach to everything has resulted in a text of which we can all be proud.
Then the Seanad can forget about it.
We have not seen it yet.
I want the Chamber to be constructive this morning.
As this House is aware, there are two Houses in the Oireachtas. It is likely that the Bill will be introduced in Dáil Éireann so that we will have the views of the people's direct representatives on the matter before we get to see it in this House. In the end, the people of Ireland voted to retain Seanad Éireann. The members of the implementation group took that mandate to implement and come up with ways in which the Manning report would be implemented seriously. They addressed their task with great diligence.
We hear the Government programme is about to be extended by agreement between party leaders. If that is going to happen, it will entail the implementation of the Manning report. The legislation will be available for the Dáil and Seanad to consider in the fullness of time. I hope that these moves lead to its adoption and passage quickly. I wish to emphasise of course that it is acknowledged that a radical reform of the kind proposed will take time to implement. In particular, I wish to thank the Members of this House, including my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, for his constructive input into the phasing in of the new arrangements.
We have to be careful in this House that we do not forget what is happening with regard to Downing Street. Brexit is a tragedy for this country. Ireland will lose its greatest ally in Europe if Brexit proceeds.
It may not.
It may not proceed, but that is what we are witnessing. While sympathy may go to a person who is battling for a particular position, nonetheless it should be remembered that Mrs. May has set her face against allowing the British people to have a final say in whether they do or do not want to leave the European Union on the terms she has negotiated.
I want to put on the record that from my point of view some basic facts are relevant. She articulated the proposition that no deal was better than a bad deal. While a nominal remainer, she failed to convince the British public to reject the Brexit referendum. It was she who told the British public, when she became Prime Minister after David Cameron, that there would be no snap election. It was she who broke that promise, held a snap election, delivered herself into the hands of the Democratic Unionist Party and gave it a large say over what happens in Westminster on this issue. Finally, it is she who has brought us to this position. All I am saying is that whereas most of us would have sympathy for a person embattled in the circumstances in which she is and in some sense would wish her well, the simple fact is that the underlying project she has embarked upon is highly damaging to Britain, Ireland and the European Union. We should never forget that.
As we watch the ever-evolving crisis in Westminster, Theresa May facing a no-confidence vote in her leadership and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increasing, we must prepare on that basis that we will have a no-deal Brexit. We owe it to businesses, families and every citizen who will be affected if there is going to be a hard Brexit. Indeed, we will be affected whether there is a soft Brexit or any other type of Brexit. We cannot, however, be distracted by the personalities. This is not a time for being warm and fuzzy about the British Prime Minister or the prime minister of any other foreign parliament. Who they chose as their leader is their business.
Our business is to protect the rights of Irish citizens north, south east and west, as well as our diaspora. We must do this by holding rock solid on the agreed backstop as set out in the withdrawal agreement and by ensuring there is no return to the hard border. We must ensure that citizens' rights are protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld in all of its parts. That is the bottom line. We are getting distracted by who is who in the zoo. I could not care less who is in the zoo.
At least we have taken our seats.
Let those in Fine Gael go up to the North and take their seats above. It is available to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or anyone else.
Let those in Fine Gael go up and stand in the North and take their seats.
Fine Gael is a partitionist party, a Twenty-six-County party.
We did not run in an election in the North.
Speak through the Chair, please. Allow Senator Conway-Walsh to conclude without interruption. Senator Conway-Walsh has the right to speak. Allow her to conclude without interruption.
We did not run in an election in the North.
Those in Fine Gael might have only discovered the Six Counties recently, but those in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are free to go up to the North, get their mandate and take their seats in Westminster any time they want.
If there are more interruptions I will suspend for 15 minutes. We were here this morning until 3 a.m. and I want us to proceed.
It was 2 a.m.
It was closer to 3 a.m.
I think you are right, a Chathaoirligh.
I need to address an important issue today, as well as what is happening yonder. I refer to the ESRI report released yesterday showing that low-income households stand to lose most from the budget in 2019. The institute predicts that all household incomes will be down by 0.6% on average. Yet, higher income households will benefit from the USC charges and the changes to income tax. If we put that into context with what we found out in the finance committee last week, the real priority for the Government become clear. Glenbeigh Securities, the vehicle used to transfer up to 6,000 mortgages from Permanent TSB, will not pay any tax at all because of how it is set up as a special purpose vehicle under section 110. We have been told by the Government time and again that all loopholes allowing vulture funds to avoid paying taxes have been closed. It took nine rounds of direct questioning from my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, to get Permanent TSB to admit that the reason the bank will continue to hold the 5% interest was to avoid the main vehicle paying tax. That is absolutely disgraceful. We also learned that the selling off of the mortgages without agreement is against the code of conduct from the Central Bank. Yesterday, we learned that the Irish Nationwide senior manager responsible for commercial lending was fined €23,000 for reckless conduct. That cost this country €5.4 billion from Irish Nationwide alone. People need to wake up and see what is happening here. It is always the little person who is being screwed over. We are paying reverence to banks and institutions. Who is really running this country?
I wish to raise the issue of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It is urgent for the Minister to meet a cross-party group as soon as possible on the matter. I acknowledge the Leader has done everything within his power to try to facilitate that.
Given the workload facing and pressure on the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I hesitate in proposing an amendment to the Order of Business. I will not do so today. I accept that the Leader has been trying to facilitate that and I ask him to continue in his efforts, because Alzheimer's disease and dementia are hidden diseases that affect so many people in this country. It is important that the HSE service plan recognises that and appoints sufficient advisers to our primary care centres to make sure families and patients access the services they need.
I have been looking back on the past year. On many occasions we raised issues concerning the national broadcaster. Concerns were raised initially about children's television, and how that was treated. It was practically done away with. Senator Norris led an all-party group addressing how RTÉ has been dealing with this House and its coverage of it, which has been disappointing. Very important points of legislation have been raised here and have not been covered. I raised the selling off of land with the previous Minister. It is very disappointing that no more than 10% of the RTÉ site at Montrose, the bare minimum, was provided for social housing. That has to be questioned. The Minister said it was up to the board and washed his hands of it.
Licence fees are another issue. While I have always been very negative about RTÉ, its coverage, its responsibility as the national broadcaster and the subvention it receives as such, the non-collection of television licence fees has had a knock-on impact on independent producers of television programming. We have seen a fall-off in investment of more than €40 million since 2008. Over recent weeks and months there have been several repeat programmes. The independent producers produce an awful lot of content for RTÉ and that has been slowly but surely reduced. If we have a public service broadcaster, it has to get the investment needed to produce quality programmes. It also has a responsibility to produce content, and reporting is a part of its public service. Senator Leyden raised the issue of independent radio and television last week.
I want to bring the Leader back to one point. Three or four weeks ago he said he would try to facilitate the Minister coming into the House to discuss the future of public service broadcasting. With what we have seen about RTÉ in the media over recent weeks, it is more important than ever that we have that conversation. We must have a conversation on policy, on how RTÉ treats its staff and on how it treats the public in its role as a public broadcaster. We have to discuss other radio and television stations and how their public content is supported through the licence fee. One issue that really needs to be addressed is the licence fee and the failure to collect it. There is a working group in the Department which is about to make recommendations. It would be timely if we had that discussion with the Minister in the House.
I want to raise the importance of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. It is coming up in January. Schools from throughout the country and which are in the localities of Senators are entering the competition. I sit on the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. I note that science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM, subjects, including physics, maths and biology, are subjects upon which an awful lot of importance is placed. It is important for all of us to support our local schools and competitors entering the exhibition. From my experience I know of many exhibitors who have had national success arising from their projects over many years. It is very important for us to encourage our students to participate and to take notice that so many of them qualified. We must lend our support to these very important projects. It is all about highlighting the importance of science and encouraging students to further their careers.
In regard to Senator Humphreys's point on the coverage of the Oireachtas on RTÉ, I note that last night the deliberations of the Seanad went out live on Oireachtas TV all night until the sitting was finished. The most intriguing question was who was behind the screen with a phone. When the Cathaoirleach announced that the House would adjourn for 15 minutes, people were wondering if there was an Inspector Clouseau situation. It distracted from the work that was being done here last night. Somebody was behind the screen.
None of us knows.
I know who it was.
Much more importantly, I would like to extend sympathy to the mayor and the people of Strasbourg and to the President of France on the tragic shooting carried out by terrorists in the city's beautiful Christmas market last night, during the sitting of the European Parliament. Of course the timing was a political statement. The attackers could not get through to the European Parliament because there is very heavy security there, as there is at the Council of Europe. I have been going to Strasbourg for ten years.
This brings home the dangers posed by terrorists. The Garda Síochána should always be on alert for radicals, some of whom live in Ireland. They can be as radical here as anywhere else. A member of my family was caught up in the shooting last night. Three people were killed and 13 injured. My family member escaped but he was within feet of the shooting. It brings home how close these issues are to everyone. We should all feel very grateful that we have not been caught up in these situations. It is almost Christmas, which is a Christian event. It is a beautiful event in Strasbourg. Three people died there and 13 were seriously injured. To all their close friends and family members I offer our sympathies on this terrible tragedy before Christmas. I hope that the terrorist, who is now on the run in France, is caught sooner than later because he will have a further shoot-out somewhere else.
I refer to what was called a dangerous precedent last night in which an amendment was not be allowed to be withdrawn. I understand the argument completely. It is courteous. We all may need to have amendments withdrawn at certain points, for whatever reason. However, it is an equally dangerous precedent to speak on an amendment for two hours and then withdraw it. There has to be some reasonableness in how we approach our business. I wish to say that in a calm way, because it was a little bit heated in here last night.
I concur with Senator Humphreys on the licence fee. I have often said that we need to overhaul radically how we collect the money. The idea of a licence inspector going around checking if people have televisions in their homes to get the money out of them must be a thing of the past. It must be radically reformed so that we charge at the source, through Internet providers or by some such method, so that this money can go to the Government. All of those efforts and resources should not be expended in trying to collect moneys, something that could be done in a much more streamlined way.
I join Senator Leyden in his comments on the incident in Strasbourg. I was lucky to spend some time on the Council of Europe and spent many a day in Strasbourg. It is a beautiful city. It is a joyous event and a very quiet, peaceful place. It is very sad to see that happen in Strasbourg. My thoughts go to the families of those who have been killed.
On the point of procedure, raised by Senator Noone, once an amendment has been moved, it is live in the House and the consent of the House has to be given to have it dealt with or withdrawn. That must be borne in mind.
I understand that.
I accept that, but some Members said last night that it should be automatic. Let me clarify that, unfortunately, it is not automatic.
On behalf of Sinn Féin I extend our sympathy to the people of Strasbourg. As a member of the Council of Europe, I was absolutely horrified to hear that terror has struck the people of Strasbourg in the way that it did. It is important that this message goes out from across the Chamber.
I wish to ask for a debate on our foreign policy with specific reference to our participation in PESCO. It looks increasingly like we will have an opportunity to have the debate because my conservative colleagues to my left look increasingly likely to join with my conservative colleagues to my right and facilitate a further extension of the term of the Government. Perhaps we will have more time to debate these issues.
We are not conservatives, we are republicans.
That is a good one, only as far as Cavan.
The Senator should be careful what he wishes for.
In 2016, the EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker, called for an EU security union with the end goal of establishing a European army. The basis of PESCO is that it obliges participating states to agree to the principle of a single force, to increasing their military spending to reach specific targets and to provide troops for EU combat missions. It is intriguing to see President Jean-Claude Juncker's tweet about PESCO, and I quote.
She is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty: Permanent Structured Cooperation is happening. I welcome the operational steps taken today by Member States to lay the foundation of a European#DefenceUnion.
Membership of PESCO obliges the State to increase military spending from 0.6% of GDP to 2% of GDP. Ireland has been a net contributor to the EU budget since 2014 and as such will also be a net contributor to the European defence fund, which will get €500 million annually from the EU budget. This sum will rise to €1 billion every year after 2020. Overall military spending in EU countries totals €200 billion annually and when one puts that in the context of the 100,000 people drowning in the Mediterranean, then the shameful practice of PESCO forces in driving migrants back to Libya, back to the coast, where they have every prospect of being imprisoned, raped, tortured and even sold is shameful. We have further evidence of that at the Council of Europe, which I referred to earlier.
The Irish people were never asked to endorse involvement in PESCO. The costs of involvement were never spelled out. Government expenditure on a priority such as PESCO will be to the increasing disadvantage of social needs, such as housing, education and health. To add particular insult to injury, this is being done at a time when many members of the Defence Forces and their families are forced to rely on social welfare benefits to augment their income.
I ask for a debate on this issue in the new year.
I would like to compliment Senator McDowell on completing his work on Seanad reform, but I am very concerned about it. I understand that one of the proposals is that there should be one university constituency with six seats and there will be well over 1 million voters for them. This will be the death of the honourable tradition of the Independent voice from the universities. It opens it up wide to the political parties. That is an absolute disaster for Seanad Éireann. I hope, however, that Senator McDowell and his colleagues on the committee will push to get rid of Standing Order 41, which is a real reform of the Seanad, that we can do straight away.
I do not agree at all with the idea of having no Order of Business tomorrow. Tomorrow is an ordinary sitting day and I think it is a great pity if we reduce our commitment to the Order of Business. I am strongly opposing it. I think we should meet tomorrow and should have an Order of Business. We will have plenty of time for the rest of the business.
The final thing I would like to point out is the really beautiful effect, on which the city council should be complimented, of the projection of snow flakes and Christmas images on to the facade of Trinity College, City Hall and the municipal gallery. I do not know if other colleagues have noticed. It is absolutely magical. It really transforms the city of Dublin into a "winter wonderland", to adapt a phrase from an old song. It is really lovely and we should compliment Dublin City Council if it is it which took this initiative.
I would like to voice my serious concern on the co-named proposals I read in the media coming from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, once again to bring changes to the law on speeding and the immediate imposition of a fine for a person who does not carry his or her driving licence, and removes the discretion of the Garda to deal with this. Let us be serious, the fines and the road traffic regime in place are already severe and very strict. As I understand it we have three Es - education, engineering and enforcement. There should be more emphasis on them than on what the Minister, Deputy Ross, is embarking upon.
There is nobody more severe than a reformed tart.
I am just wondering if Deputy Ross has got some copper-fastened commitment from an insurance company that we will see a reduction in our premiums, if this is introduced. Unless there is an incentive of reduced insurance costs, I do not see the reason for it. In fact, he is bearing down again on people in rural areas. We have speed limits in operation that do not match the condition of the roads. Some of the roads are in very poor condition. In areas where one could drive safely at a certain speed, we have reduced speed limits. We have speed limits of 100 km/h in places where people are going round a bad bend. This is the reality. We do not have public transport so what happens if someone is ultimately put off the road? This can happen without any dangerous driving where somebody is caught driving in excess of the speed limit.
One of the major commitments given by the Minister when we increased the penalty for drink driving was that he would look after rural transport so that people living in rural areas could get into their towns and villages. In a vast county such as County Mayo, we only have three schemes in place. I can tell Members that as somebody who goes around to these towns and villages and goes into pubs and meets the people, people are cheesed off and feel that rural Ireland is being shut down. I ask the Minister to come to this Chamber. I would like to ask him to come down to County Mayo to meet some of these people. He is doing a great impression of somebody living in an ivory tower. He would want to get in touch with the realities of the law abiding people, the people being caught on the road for these very minor misdemeanours. If speed involves something dangerous then there are other offences with which people can be charged, beside heaping it on again and again. I would like to see further examination of this proposal. I would like to see what good result we will get from it. Will we be persecuting people in rural Ireland?
I call Senator Robbie Gallagher.
That is why we have a Minister for rural affairs.
Senator Gallagher has the floor.
Along with my colleagues, Senators Leyden and Ned O'Sullivan, on this side and indeed many other Senators throughout the House, I have raised the plight of Defence Forces personnel because of the terms and conditions under which they work. PDFORRA and RACO continue to raise issues in respect of the pay and conditions of their members. Earlier this year, the families and loved ones of the Defence Forces personnel were forced to mobilise themselves on the issues of those in the Defence Forces who are struggling to survive on the wages they get from the State. It is worth noting that between 2012 and 2017, 1,000 members of the Defence Forces paid to leave the force. These figures clearly indicate that despite what the Government is telling us and what the Minister of State is saying, we have a crisis in the Defence Forces. I have never seen morale as low among members of the forces. They are being treated with total disrespect. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State to the House early in the new year so that we can question him on what he plans to do to address this very serious issue for the men and women of our Defence Forces.
I see that the next speaker, Senator Feighan, has arrived. He can go ahead and speak from there.
I would also like to-----
Where Senator Feighan is sitting does not mean he has joined the Independent ranking.
I hope the Senator has not joined the Sinn Féin benches anyway.
Senator Feighan seems uncomfortable in that position but I will let him speak.
The Senator is welcome to this side of the House.
They have a seat obsession.
The Shinners are occupying the Fianna Fáil seats so he is occupying-----
Sinn Féin are in Fianna Fáil's seats.
And then they complain about-----
Senator Feighan, please. We have a long day to get through.
I remind the House my grandfather, James Feehily, was a Sinn Féin councillor back at the turn of the century-----
Where did it all go wrong?
-----and he joined Fine Gael while others joined Fianna Fáil.
I also extend my condolences to the people of France and Strasbourg. It was an awful shooting especially at Christmas time. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our French colleagues. As for the vote of confidence at Westminster today, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has the respect of the Irish people and the British people. She has been formidable. I hope that cool heads will prevail in Westminster. We do not want the lights to go out in Europe. We are strong and committed Europeans and we need unity as much now as ever. I hope that tonight cool heads will prevail.
I welcome Elphin community college to the Gallery. It is a great school. I am from Boyle, which is down the road. Elphin is a fine place and the home of the Elphin diocese.
I thank the 12 Members of the House for their contributions. On my behalf, on behalf of the Fine Gael group and on behalf of the House I extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the innocent victims of the awful tragedy last night. I also extend our sympathies to the mayor of Strasbourg, the people of France and the French Government on this awful tragedy. We must always ensure the rule of law is upheld and any killing must be condemned. What happened last night was absolutely awful.
Senators Horkan, Conway-Walsh and Feighan raised the issue of Brexit. Not wanting to stray into the Conservative Party leadership machinations, I note the issue of Brexit is the most important issue for us as a country, and it is important for all of us to be careful in what we say, in particular to ensure we stand in solidarity with the other member states on the deal that was negotiated and ensure we continue to have our position best represented, which has been done successfully to date by the Government and the Tánaiste. I will not comment on what is happening in Westminster other than to say, as Senator Conway-Walsh said, it is important that we continue to be prepared for all eventualities in Brexit. As I have said before, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. In welcoming the students from Elphin community college to the House, they are of a generation that has benefitted from the prosperity of the European Union and a peaceful island of Ireland. I hope they will continue to be able to look forward to this as young men and women and I wish them all well in their studies.
Senators Horkan and Mulherin raised issues on speeding limits, directly and indirectly referencing the proposals coming from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is important not to pre-empt what the outcome of that legislation will be. Notwithstanding the legitimate points raised by both Senators, it is important to recognise that speeding on our roads does kill. If we look at the statistics, the number of people dying on our roads from speeding has increased. Whether this is because of poor road surfaces or because of the lack of a proper speed limit in particular areas, we have always been taught that enforcement, engineering and education are the three "E"s. I accept Senator Mulherin's comments on parts of the country where speed limits are inordinately high but none of us could condone somebody driving 30 km/h over the speed limit and expecting to get away with a mere wrap of the knuckles. We will have that debate in due time but we should be cognisant of the points raised by Senators Horkan and Mulherin. Equally, on the points raised by Senator Mulherin on rural Ireland, I remind Senator Conway-Walsh that in County Mayo, her ministerial colleague, Deputy Ring, is doing a fine job in-----
I did not say he was not. It was not me who said it.
-----rejuvenating rural Ireland.
She said there were three rural transport schemes-----
All we have to look at are the announcements made under LEADER programmes and village renewal schemes and we will see the Government is very much committed to rural Ireland.
The Leader should tell that to his colleagues because day after day they stand up saying it is not.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of gift vouchers, which is very timely. My information is the drafting of the legislation is proving to be more difficult than was originally envisaged. It is the intention of the Minister to have the legislation published and to then come before the Houses of the Oireachtas early next year but there are issues in the drafting. People also need to read the small print on gift vouchers. I hope those who give gift vouchers recognise some of them have an expiry date. I hope goodwill is shown by the store or service provider.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of climate change and it was addressed yesterday. This morning, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, appeared on Seán O'Rourke's radio programme and he is attending a conference today in Oslo. We are behind in our targets and we have a lot of work to do. The all-party committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas on climate change will conclude its work at the end of January and the Minister is committed to an action plan to tackle a suite of issues on climate change and I hope we will do this.
Senators Horkan and McDowell raised the issue of the Downing Street Declaration and commended all involved in the commemoration events this week. As I said to the people in the Gallery who have now left, we are benefitting from the prosperity of a peace dividend that is, to be fair, a credit to Albert Reynolds and John Major and all involved in Irish politics who work so hard to ensure we have peace on our island.
Senators McDowell and Norris touched upon the issue of Seanad reform. Not wanting to pre-empt or leak any part of the agreed report that is not yet finalised, because Members will be asked for submissions, I commend Senator McDowell on his resilience, patience, extraordinary courtesy and tunnel vision in having his way - sorry, in providing the final document yesterday afternoon. All jokes aside, to be fair to Senator McDowell, as chairman of the committee he certainly galvanised minds. I thank Dr. Brian Hunt, Síle de Búrca and members of the Department of the Taoiseach for their fantastic work. I also thank those who appeared before the committee. Irrespective of one's viewpoint on the final outcome, the process was a good one in that we were able in a non-adversarial way to have a healthy debate on Seanad reform and the future of the Seanad. We have had 12 or 13 reports to date on Seanad reform and we will have that debate in due course again. There will be ample opportunities for Senator Norris's views to be articulated and heard I am sure he will be able to impress upon people the need to resist change or go with it, whichever the case may be.
The right change and not change for change itself.
I am not going to pre-empt the report. Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of Permanent TSB. The Taoiseach has made a comment that the loophole will be changed. The Senator mentioned the ESRI report.
The loophole happened within the past 30 days when the vehicle was set up.
The Government's position is quite clear, that it is distressing for homeowners. The loophole will be changed. All of us agree there needs to be vigilance with the banks.
Gabh mo leithscéal?
I said "Haha".
I have never demurred from saying that. It is a personal view. Obviously, the Minister is constrained in what he can and cannot do. It is easy for people to come in to rant and rave, shout and roar, and do all kinds of things. We have an obligation to the customers of the banks as well.
We bailed out the banks. I am not sure whether my view is black and white or one-dimensional, but I genuinely believe we need to be vigilant in ensuring the banks recognise that customers are important and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.
I half understood what Senator Conway-Walsh said about income levels. I do not want to misquote her. Was she speaking about an ESRI report?
I referred to the analysis in yesterday's ESRI report. It is not Sinn Féin's analysis.
No, it is not but it is Sinn Féin's interpretation of the analysis that I want to address.
It is black and white. I have read it all.
First, the ESRI assessment is done by comparing the budget against a hypothetical wage-indexed budget. Second, the ESRI results show that social welfare increases have happened, pay restoration has begun and the amount of income in people's pockets has increased. In the aftermath of the budget, the ESRI publicly acknowledged that the full indexation of the budget to wage growth would cost more than the resources available for the budget. I know the Senator has a-----
The Leader is missing the point.
I am not missing the point.
It is the impact they were-----
I know the Senator-----
We cannot have a debate on the matter now.
-----wants voodoo economics to come back.
To be fair to her, she has consistently asked the Government to spend billions of euro beyond what the Government has.
No, we have costed our proposals.
That is the whole point.
They have been costed by the Department of Finance.
It is Sinn Féin's voodoo economics.
I think we should-----
We cannot have any-----
On a point of order, it might be useful if the Minister were to come to the House to discuss the ESRI report specifically.
That might be arranged.
I have noted that request. None of the proposals made by Sinn Féin before the budget, with the exception of its proposal for tax relief for renters, involved the lifting of the tax burden on workers.
That is completely false. Does the Leader want to read our document?
I have read it.
The Leader needs to read it again.
If the Leader grants the Senator a discussion on this issue, she can make those points at that stage.
I would be happy to come back to-----
I think the Leader needs to make this his Christmas reading.
I have read it. It is complete voodoo economics.
We will wrap it up for the Leader.
We will put a bow on it.
I ask the Leader to move on, rather than getting bogged down in a personal clash.
There is no personal clash.
It is not personal.
There is no personal clash at all. I thank Senator Humphreys for his patience regarding a request for a meeting. I understand his frustration. The approach he has taken is a demonstration of the importance of co-operation in the House. To be fair to the Senator, he has not pushed this item today. He could have done so by calling for the Minister to come to the House. I thank him for not doing so.
Senators Leyden, Humphreys and Noone spoke about the RTÉ licence fee. We will have that debate in the new year. We should reflect on the issue of RTÉ coverage of public affairs and the Houses of the Oireachtas and RTÉ should do likewise. I recognise that RTÉ decided to change its coverage of the Oireachtas. I believe some of its coverage of this House, in particular, has been less than adequate. Leaving aside the Order of Business, we have had a number of very good debates on a wide variety of issues. I understand that when RTÉ removed "Oireachtas Report" from its schedule, it gave a commitment that it would continue to cover the Oireachtas properly, but in my opinion it has not done so. I have been disappointed with its coverage of the Seanad, which leaves a lot to be desired. The former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, was involved in the establishment by the Department of a working group on the licence fee. We will have that debate again in due course. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House in the new year.
Senator Byrne mentioned next month's BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. I wish all involved well. I commend everyone who participates in this important exhibition. The Senator is right when she says it is important for us to continue to promote STEM subjects, especially to young women.
I have dealt with Senator Leyden's issue.
The Cathaoirleach has dealt with the procedural matter that was raised by Senator Noone in the context of an amendment that was debated by the House last night. The Senator is correct when she says there is an expectation. It does happen. The point made by people last night was that we need to be careful about what we can and cannot do.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of PESCO. I will be happy to have a debate on it in the new year. All of us are proud of our Defence Forces. I am thinking particularly of the work they have been doing in the Mediterranean. Our Defence Forces and our Government are about supporting peace and security internationally. They are not about going to war. They are about supporting peace and neutrality. As part of PESCO, our Defence Forces have had access to the best equipment and training.
Senator Gallagher reminded the House that many people are leaving the Defence Forces and highlighted the pay and conditions of those who are staying in the Defence Forces. It is critical to say that under this Government, there has been a restoration of pay and an unfurling of the FEMPI legislation. We have a road to travel. We accept that there is frustration within the Defence Forces. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, is acutely aware of that. This Government ended the recruitment embargo. Senator McFadden has been very strong regarding her support and our support for our Defence Forces.
Senator Norris spoke about Seanad reform, which we will debate again in due course. I have answered the question asked by Senator Mulherin.
I also asked whether we will have an Order of Business tomorrow.
To be fair, it is not as if I want to hear people on my side speaking while not allowing others to make a contribution. I spoke to representatives of all the groupings yesterday. The decision we have made is based on our desire to complete the debates on all Stages of an important Bill which is giving effect to the vote of the people in a referendum. I would not have pursued that approach or proceeded in this way if there was an objection to the proposal, or if there was not a majority in favour of it. We saw what happened yesterday. To be fair, this approach will allow us-----
It was the right decision.
We have seen the activities of some Members of the House during debates on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. I decided, as Leader, to speak to my colleagues in all groups to ensure we would not delay and we would not have a situation whereby the Bill would not be passed, and would not go to the Phoenix Park for signature before the Christmas recess. That is why we will not have an Order of Business. If Senator Norris wants to propose on today's Order of Business that we should have an Order of Business tomorrow, we will have a vote on it. This decision has not been taken on the basis of any sense of not wanting to have an Order of Business.
I think it would be futile to put it to a vote.
We can put that question in a minute.
Obviously, the Government would win.
I understand the Senator's position.
I think it is a bad precedent.
I accept that.
I think we have plenty of time to deal with the Bill, given that one can speak just once on Report Stage.
We were here until after 2 a.m. yesterday. If the Senator had seen-----
I stayed until almost midnight.
I stayed for ten years-----
Some of us were here until the very end.
No, the Leader was not around very much.
Please, can we conclude now? We do not want-----
I was in the House. I might not have been in the Chamber.
The Leader might have been in the House, but he was not here.
I ask the Senator to allow the Leader to conclude. There are several important points to be put.
I can leave if it would help.
The Senator does not need to leave. I am not asking him to leave at all.
We are missing him already.
I thank all members of staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the ushers, the stenographers, the recording people, the lads who tally the votes at the back and the Seanad staff, for their courtesy last night. It was an exception in this Oireachtas that we sat late. There was a precedent for late sittings in previous Oireachtais. A 2 a.m. finish was a bit unusual. I thank the members of staff who were significantly discommoded.
Finally, I welcome the members of the Iranian delegation to the House. As the Cathaoirleach will confirm in a minute, they are very welcome. We had the pleasure of visiting Tehran last year. It was a very fruitful and positive visit. The members of the Iranian delegation are very welcome.
The Leader has stolen my thunder.