The Order of Business is No. 1, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 7 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 2, Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I call Senator Ardagh.
Senator Ardagh is not present today, so it is me.
Senator Clifford-Lee is very welcome. I should have been more observant. I apologise.
No bother. I forgive you. I continue to raise the concerns about the national children's hospital. I was once again out and about in north County Dublin knocking on doors and it was again the main topic of conversation. Everyone wanted to talk about the massive overruns. There is now a shift in focus from the massive overruns to where we are going to get the money to plug the gap. We learn that €100 million is to be taken out of capital expenditure this year alone. This sum must be found to plug this outrageous gap due to the overspend on the national children's hospital. I therefore continue the call of my colleague, Senator Ardagh, last week that we get the Minister for Health into the Chamber as soon as possible this week to talk about the overruns at the children's hospital and specifically to outline where the cuts will come.
We have learnt through the media that €100 million is what must come out of the capital budget this year but, astonishingly, €30 million must come out of the transport budget, with all the other Departments contributing approximately €3 million each. It is astonishing that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must plug the gap in the Department of Health's expenditure. As well as the Minister for Health, I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House because we want to learn what transport projects will be cut. We have-----
Stepaside Garda station.
Perhaps one of the reasons €30 million is coming from the transport budget is that the Minister's focus is elsewhere.
We will be back debating the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill following the Order of Business. He is concerning himself with judicial appointments and the reopening of Garda stations and taking his eye off the ball. A total of 30% of this year's overrun must be borne by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. What transport infrastructure project will bear the brunt of this? Will BusConnects be rolled out? Will we have the greenways that have been promised? What about the carriages for the northern commuter line? I face into packed carriages when I get on the train in the morning in Donabate, as do all my constituents. Will we see this resolved? We need the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House. Will this create a precedent for following years? We know the gap will have to be plugged in the coming years. Will the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have to plug the gap? I could go on and on about the failings of the Minister in that Department. This is an important issue, particularly in north County Dublin, which has the fastest growing population in the country and where the transport infrastructure does not cater for the needs of the people living there currently or who will live there in future. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must plug the gap caused by the Department of Health. The Ministers for Health and Transport, Tourism and Sport need to come to the Chamber to answer our pressing questions on this.
I welcome Valerie and Martin Hurley, neighbours of mine from west Cork, to the Public Gallery. Martin is celebrating his 50th birthday. They are accompanied by Deputy Murphy O'Mahony. I hope they have a lovely day and that Martin has a great 50th birthday.
I want to address the issue of the national children's hospital and other associated matters. I have also been addressed and spoken to by members of the public about the waste of parliamentary time in calling for Ministers' heads every time something goes wrong.
What changed in the Department of Justice and Equality when Deputy Frances Fitzgerald's head was taken? What changed when Deputy Denis Naughten's head was taken? What changes in any Department when a head is taken? The same people are left behind doing the same job they always did. I have spoken previously about how the Carltona doctrine protects those who are behind Ministers. If the Minister, Deputy Harris, had been watching the children's hospital all day every day and was not watching the nurses, people would have said we needed his head because he had not been watching the nurses. That would mean he must divide his time between the nurses and the hospital but what about the GPs? This bloody nonsense has to stop. It is debasing politics and both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has been mentioned with regard to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. There have been 86 hours of debate so far.
Half of the Government has no faith whatsoever in the Bill. The bottom line on it is another little deal was done.
I am sorry but I am trying to get something across.
Senator Craughwell is almost succeeding. He should continue.
Members of the public are entitled to fair representation in the House and we have had the nonsense for 86 hours. Now, I am told the Leader is to step up debate on the Bill to two days a week but for what? Why are we doing this? Half of the Leader's party does not believe the Bill is worthy.
Does Senator Craughwell have Senator McDowell's single transferable script?
If the Leader wants to play that old game, we can play it. The bottom line is if the Government was honest-----
Please observe the dignity of the House.
Through the Chair.
-----it would pull the Bill and let us get back to proper parliamentary work. We have had 86 hours of debate for what? The chances are when the Bill is eventually dragged through the House, the President will send it to the Supreme Court and it will be struck down because it is unconstitutional anyway.
And the Minister knows it is not constitutional.
Please, this is-----
It is a pity Senator Craughwell is not the President.
I did try.
He had the chance.
I did not get the Leader's backing.
The white flag was raised before the off.
This is not the Supreme Court so------
Among ourselves, we need to find time to decide where we should debate and what we should debate.
However, it is a nonsense to call for a Minister's head every time there is a little glitch outside the door. What happens? The same people stay in place and the same things go on. Perhaps the €30 million is being taken from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as the quid pro quo for the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I do not know. We need to stop this.
Today, our MEPs will vote on an EU-Singapore trade agreement and the associated EU-Singapore investment protection agreement. I raise this issue because the House voted to express concern about the prospect of an investor court system that would allow corporations to sue states for lost future profits when new regulations are introduced by elected representatives in response to the needs of the electorate. There would be what has been termed a significant chilling effect on our ability to pursue good policy, respond politically and regulate. With these courts comes the risk that any new regulatory decision could be a hostage to fortune because a blank cheque had effectively been given to any corporation looking for lost future profits, which is a wide scope. The House debated the matter at length. It is unfortunate that problematic elements in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, are raising their head again in the EU-Singapore investment treaty. I have urged our MEPs to vote "No" because we can have a better kind of trade deal. We all want trade, but it has to work for citizens as well as corporations.
The House will hold further debates on the issue, as we cannot afford to introduce such courts, particularly in light of our climate change commitments. The idea that strengthening those commitments would come with a "hostage to fortune" cost is in conflict with our international obligations. Of particular concern is that the EU-Singapore treaty also asserts the right to overturn local government decisions. I say this on a day when Dublin City Council produced a climate change action plan for Dublin, for which I applaud it, that is more ambitious than the Government's action plan for the State. Dynamic actions are being taken on issues like climate change at local level, but these new treaties would not only lead to challenges to the State, but also to local authorities, and would have a chilling effect on them and stop them taking proactive actions.
I wish to make a specific request. I thank the Leader for arranging improved debates on climate change in recent weeks, with witnesses appearing before us. However, there is a linked, but different, crisis. Will the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment address the House on the ecological crisis? Certain areas are seeing a 60% extinction level and there are reports of a 40% decline in the number of insects, something that has been called a catastrophic collapse. At the beginning of our term in the Seanad, we debated the pollinator plan, our hedgerows, and the importance of insect life and green corridors. These issues are linked to, but distinct from, climate change. Will the Leader arrange a specific debate on this matter and will he pass my request on to the Minister?
I pay tribute to the determination and dignity of the nurses. Union members are yet to be balloted and will reach their own decisions around what is on the table for them, but regardless of the outcome, they have done a great public service by highlighting a problem that would only have worsened with time. The reasons for the dispute need to be addressed. I thank those who, despite having their appointments postponed and their personal needs unmet, stood steadfast behind the strike. They know how necessary it is for those working in the system to shout "Stop". I also thank the care staff and others within the health system, not only for the vital work they do, but for recognising that all workers have the right to work within a safer system.
Regarding the €450 million overspend at the national children's hospital, Senator Craughwell wondered what the point would be of asking for someone to be accountable or for someone's head on a plate.
I ask the Senator and others to explain what we mean by accountable. Do we mean there should be a number of apologies?
There should be an explanation.
There are some things that cannot just be explained away.
They have, which is the point.
We have been doing this for years. It is interesting to look back to 2008 and 2009, when Fine Gael vigorously criticised Fianna Fáil for wasting money, describing the Health Service Executive as a bureaucratic monster that eats money. It rightly accused Fianna Fáil of cancelling services rather than cutting waste. Fine Gael was going to do things differently.
Just like the Senator's party.
Have a bit of manners, Senator. I am speaking.
Is that directed to me?
All right. Very good. The Senator was not looking at me.
Ciúnas, le bhúr dtoil. Senator Norris, sometimes your interjections are unhelpful.
I appreciate that.
They are what?
They are unhelpful.
Sometimes they are unwelcome.
They are intended to be.
Senator Conway-Walsh has the floor and should be allowed to continue.
I hope I will be allowed another minute for that. It is about where accountability stops and how many times somebody must be made accountable. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has apologised for not giving a fuller account in a parliamentary reply but this is not the first time he has had to apologise. He is a serial apologiser. We have had the CervicalCheck scandal, the treatment waiting lists, the trolley crisis, problems for scoliosis patients and many other failings. The public are wondering at which point we say the buck must stop somewhere. The question is how many apologies make up accountability.
There is now a €450 million overspend on just one project. There may be people in the Chamber who think that is okay and one can just apologise for that. It does not matter what pot this comes from, as it all comes from the same pockets. These are the same pockets that have absolutely nothing left to give. They are the same pockets that get fleeced for everything despite us going to them time and again to pay for things. Somebody must pay for this and it is the Irish citizens and taxpayers who do so. It is decision time for each and every Fianna Fáil Member in these Houses. Do they still have confidence in a Minister who conceals vital information while pretending to negotiate a budget?
Sinn Féin has no Ministers in the North.
They were negotiating a budget.
It is allowing civil servants to run it. It may as well do what it is doing in the North.
This could not be made up. Do the Senators not feel they are being taken for fools?
It is peak Mary Lou.
Senator Norris should not join those benches as well. Is he joining the unaccountable-----
Who is this woman?
Senator Norris should take a seat. I ask Senator Conway-Walsh to conclude as I have been very fair.
Do the Senators not know they are being taken as fools by the people to my right?
Senator Clifford-Lee called into question the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and I have called him into question numerous times. At the beginning of this term, I spoke about collective Cabinet responsibility and the Minister was not very good at following that concept. In considering what has happened in recent days, it is the Cabinet that is responsible rather than individual Ministers. There is a collective responsibility and those decisions are made collectively. There has been a change with the structures in Cabinet. In looking at accountability for this, we must consider why this problem occurred and how we can ensure it does not happen again. A previous Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform challenged all spending, as Senator Reilly, a former Minister for Health, will attest. It was a challenging environment in the previous five-year Government term when it came to expenditure matters, and each item of spending was put under a magnifying glass to ensure we could get full value for money for the taxpayer.
There has been a change in the structure of the Department of Finance and it has caused cost overruns, including with the children's hospital. When we speak of accountability, we must understand the reasons. We cannot lay this at the door of one person as there is collective Cabinet responsibility. This must be taken seriously as too often, under every Government, there have been overruns. We must examine the people getting the contracts and how they legally challenge those contracts if they do not win them. We must consider how they enlarge their cost base when they get those contracts.
I want to raise a very serious issue which was on the front page of The Irish Times today. The article said that families who turn down offers of social housing are to face a five-year wait. To be honest, I believe this is spin. This is about blaming people who are on the housing list for the housing crisis. I know of very few people on the housing waiting list who have refused housing units. I deal with a huge number of applicants week in and week out and the vast majority are delighted when they get an offer.
There have been some refusals. I accept that. Sometimes there have been very good reasons and sometimes there have been poor reasons, but we should not blame people who are on the housing list. The issue should not be spun on the front page of The Irish Times and it should not be suggested that all those poor people on the waiting list are refusing housing, which is the subliminal message. They are not. I am only aware of one person who refused an offer of housing from Dublin City Council in the last six months and that was because the person would have had to give up their job because they would have had to surrender the support of their family in minding their children, which allowed them to go out to work. The person would have then been caught in an unemployment-based poverty trap and housed well away from his or her family. I was disappointed. The headline was spin rather than substance and blamed the people who are on the housing list. It gave the message that they get loads of offers and keep saying "No". A tiny percentage refuse.
I want to raise a very important issue which affects the entire north of Dublin city and county, namely, metro north. On Thursday Fingal County Council will present details of four master plans for Swords, involving 67 ha of land, 218,000 sq. m of commercial space, and 55 acres of office space in buildings four, five, six and seven storeys high. Some 18,000 jobs will eventually be created in this area. The plans include 2,700 badly needed homes. There will be 10,000 new residents. Another 3,500 homes are to be constructed as a result of the funding the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has made available under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF. That represents another 12,000 residents, so there are to be 22,000 extra residents for Swords. Swords has a population of 40,000 at the moment. The Fingal development plan for 2017 to 2023 projects that the population will grow to 100,000.
I would like the Leader to bring in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because we need the first phase of MetroLink to start as soon as possible. I know there are issues and disputes about the route on the south side but there are no such disputes on the north side. This has been in planning for more than 20 years. It is very clear that MetroLink will take pressure off the city of Dublin by allowing access to the city from these lands by rapid transport. It will connect the airport, DCU and Swords with the city. As previous speakers have said, Fingal has the youngest population in Ireland and, possibly, in Europe. These are talented, well educated people who are looking for jobs and who want to stay in Fingal. The north end of the MetroLink line has to go ahead while the south side sorts itself out.
This initiative is close to my heart. I fought for it during my time in Cabinet when there was no money and people wanted to kill it. I wanted it to be kept alive. We have the money now and we have a plan and preferred route for the north side. Can we please proceed with this? The Minister needs to come in here urgently to explain to us why it cannot go ahead on the north side now while the arrangements for the south side of the city are finalised.
I would like to raise my concerns about the imposition of the 23% VAT rate on food supplements. This decision makes no sense.
It is wrong and it should be reversed. I call on the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to revisit this decision before any further decisions are made on it. This proposal will affect and hurt the most vulnerable in our society, namely, the people who are under severe financial pressure due to the rising costs of living. People take food supplements for a variety of reasons, but they primarily take them to stay healthy, to stay away from their local GP and to stay away from hospitals that are already under pressure. With Brexit just around the corner, the timing of this proposed increase is wrong. I am disappointed to say that it is yet another example of the Government's total lack of understanding of what life is like for those of us who live in the Border counties, or what life is like for those who are trying to run a business in the Border counties. It is difficult enough without making decisions like this. If this decision goes ahead, it will result in people travelling across the Border to shop, which will have a very negative impact on the businesses that are struggling to stay open along the Border counties. Consider the fact that this also follows on from the increased VAT rate for the hotel industry. It does not fill me with confidence that the Government gets it when it comes to businesses and people and what they are going through in the Border counties. I ask the Leader to bring our message back to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to press the stall button on this decision, for the benefit of people's health and for those who are trying to run and keep open businesses while employing people in Border counties.
Táim buíoch as ucht deis labhairt anseo inniu mar gheall ar chúrsaí gnóthaí beaga small and medium sized enterprises. I totally echo and support Senator Robbie Gallagher's comments. Tá an ceart aige go hiomlán. It is a major issue. We in both Houses are neglecting small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland and particularly in the Border counties. These are the heart and soul of sustaining employment throughout the State with 97% of businesses being SMEs.
Will the Leader speak to or connect with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, to ask her to come to the House? There is a major issue with insurance. The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME, has conducted research recently on 850 SMEs that shows 83% of those SMEs are experiencing increases in insurance premiums. We will debate the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 in this House later. I very much welcome that legislation. I received a phone call this morning on my way to the House from a person who has a business in the midlands. Three years ago he employed 65 people and today he is employing about 115 people. He has four cases of people looking to bring insurance claims against him. A person can bring a claim against an employer and I have no problem with that. I do have a problem, however, when on some occasions the claims are vexatious and may not be 100%. I very much welcome the Bill.
I am the rapporteur for the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which has drafted a comprehensive report that is very near completion and will be published shortly. This report will give us an indication of the roadmap of the SMEs in Ireland. Subject to the committee's approval and under the chairmanship of the Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Coghlan, it is hoped we will have an opportunity to debate the issue and have a full session debate in this House with the relevant Ministers. It affects tourism, transport, enterprise, farming and Bord Iascaigh Mhara. I would very much welcome the comprehensive discussion and debate around that, if the Leader could facilitate that.
I listened with interest to the Commencement debate earlier.
A pertinent matter was raised by Senator Warfield on passport applications for children of same-sex couples abroad. It was very important and I really hope that issue can be resolved. It led me to the idea that we really need a debate in the House on the passport system and the future of the passport system for a couple of other serious reasons as well as the reasons raised by Senator Warfield this afternoon.
First and foremost, regardless of what happens in the next period of fewer than 50 days, Brexit is coming. We have already seen tens of thousands of people in the UK and farther afield take the opportunity to seize Irish citizenship and apply for a passport. The numbers of those applying to the Irish Embassy in Britain have multiplied every year-on-year. We have serious questions to ask about the capacity of the passport service to meet these demands. The passport service, much to the credit of the Ministers and officials working there, has vastly and greatly improved in recent years with the rapid online system and improvements in many others processing areas. However, I have fears in respect of the capacity and I believe it is our absolute responsibility to meet the demand with a proper information campaign for the Irish diaspora. This is something Senators Lawless and Ó Donnghaile have worked hard on, whether in the US or the North, to ensure those who are Irish citizens know their entitlements, the processes and procedures and their rights. We should ensure the process is met in the most speedy and proper manner.
Thank you for your brevity, Senator.
I salute my colleagues, the nurses and midwives of Ireland, following their great successful rally on Saturday and the extraordinary support of the public through the streets of Dublin. It was almost like a festival or carnival everywhere they were celebrated.
I want to ask Senator Clifford-Lee and her colleagues where they were. Where were they to support the nurses? They all seemed to go into a huddle or they hid away, because they could not answer the question one way or another.
I was not. I was on the picket line.
At the rally there was no sign of anyone from Fianna Fáil whatsoever.
I have to take one day a week to mind my children.
There was not a sign or any presence of Fianna Fáil one way or the other at the rally.
I want to know where they all were.
Please, Senator Devine, address the Chair.
That is rubbish.
With respect, I cannot have Senators talking over my head. I am the Cathaoirleach. Senator Devine, address your issues through me to the Leader and not to anyone else.
On a point of order, Fianna Fáil was well represented. It is a fairly low blow for the Senator to point me out in particular for not being at it. I am on the picket regularly with the nurses.
Senator Clifford-Lee, that is not a point of order. Resume your seat, Senator. That is not a point of order.
I think the 50,000 people and the public who were there on Saturday will want to know why. They were questioning where they were and why they were not there.
I doubt it.
You are being unhelpful now, Senator.
We were there.
The Senator should go and answer to those 50,000 who were asking that question.
Please, Senator Devine, do not address an issue to another Senator. Address the Chair and the Leader will respond, not someone else.
Okay, I will do so. Gabh mo leithscéal.
I am trying to be fair here. This is not helpful.
This morning, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, said that he was going into the Cabinet to put before it the proposals by the Labour Court that saw the suspension of the industrial action, including this strike and the three days due. I put it to the Minister that it is not really up to the Cabinet to agree or disagree to this. It is up to the 50,000 members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to agree or disagree. We await their deliberations, which are taking place now, and we will respect the results of those deliberations.
The motion of no confidence arises because of the fiasco or debacle, or whatever we want to call it, ongoing in health. Two Fianna Fáil Deputies, Deputies Cowen and Donnelly, said yesterday that they were misled and that no one could have confidence in the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. However, today again - this is not lost on the public - those in Fianna Fáil are still sitting in their huddle. They should give us an apology because the polls are not right. It is not simply that the polls are not right.
I am sorry: we are doing better in the polls than Sinn Féin.
They reckon that because Brexit is coming they cannot upset the nation.
That is the typical Sinn Féin modus operandi.
The two-year period of Brexit is extended-----
Senator Devine, please conclude.
They want to cause chaos.
Please, Senator Devine, you are being unhelpful. I have admonished you before. If you want me to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes, the blame will be on you. Please conclude now, Senator Devine. You have had almost four minutes.
The excuse we are getting is that Brexit is coming.
Brexit is probably going to be extended by two years. We wait then. Is this the excuse until the polls are in-----
How does the Senator know that?
How does the Senator know that?
-----their proper order and the atmosphere is correct?
Is the Senator texting Theresa May?
Matters affecting the other House should not be discussed here. If there are motions in this House, we deal with them. What happens in the other House stays there and is dealt with there.
Would the Cathaoirleach ask Senator Devine to give us the lotto numbers tonight?
There is no point.
Senator Buttimer is the Leader. He will have ample time to respond. I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan.
Last week I visited a number of primary schools in Tramore, Glór na Mara, Holy Cross, Gaelscoil Philib Barún, Educate Together and Fenor national school. Right now Fórsa estimates that 10% of the country's approximately 3,500 school secretaries are paid directly by the Department of Education and Skills, with their salaries varying from €24,000 to €44,711 per year. The other 90% are paid through their schools' ancillary grant leaving some of the salaries as low as €12,000 per year. This grant is decided by the Department of Education and Skills and is sent to the school each year. It then has to be paid out to the secretaries. The majority of schools are forced to employ their school secretaries through their ancillary grant.
This two-tier system means that in some schools there can be two secretaries doing exactly the same job in the same office, but one is paid €44,000 per year and the other €12,000 per year. In any other walk of life this discrimination would be illegal. Currently the majority of Ireland's school secretaries have to work for poor pay and without the most basic of employment rights such as sick pay or secure contracts, and they are mostly let go for the summer months and have to sign on for social welfare. I know school secretaries who have been signing on for the summer or Easter breaks for years. It is degrading to have to go to a social welfare office every July, and it is frustrating as the money they are entitled to can take up to six weeks to process.
Approximately 90% of all school secretaries have no pension rights. These are people we all know in our communities. This is a scandal. I am crying out to all parties in the House to please support the school secretaries. There is a Fórsa Support Our Secretaries campaign. In addition, will the Leader please ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, to come to the House to discuss this issue? This is absolute, sustained discrimination.
The Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women, ONE, started when three veterans died on our streets. These people served the Tricolour with pride, often in places of conflict, as the UN's most distinguished peacekeepers, and often in the North of Ireland during the Troubles. It is a charity and it needs support. Former members of the Defence Forces are going to highlight the plight of homeless veterans by camping on the streets of Dublin in sleeping bags made of fabric in the colours of the national flag. It is atrocious that anybody who wore the Army's uniform would have to do this to raise funds for their veterans. ONE has houses in Donegal, Athlone and Dublin. It provides 44 beds per night and has looked after more than 900 veterans in its time, and 16,000 bed nights in a year. I urge all Members to go online and support the campaign.
I also ask that we contact that Minister and ask him to support this charity. It should not have to be a charity in the first place; it should be supported. It receives funding from the Department of Defence, but it is obviously not enough. This has to be addressed. No veteran who has served his or her country should have to rely on charity.
I propose an amendment, that item No. 11 of non-Government motions, regarding Shane O'Farrell, be taken at the end of the-----
After item No. 2.
Yes, after item No. 2, and that we have a one hour debate at that point.
I would like to refer to the demands that the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance should withdraw. It is absolute and utter nonsense. In my 30 years of experience, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are two of the best Ministers this country has ever had. They are quite outstanding. Members of the Opposition have instanced the case of Deputies Fitzgerald and Naughten. They were rather foolish to bring them up, because both Deputies Fitzgerald and Naughten were subsequently vindicated. They were got rid of unnecessarily, and it is an absolute waste of talent that excellent Ministers should be the victims of these demands for heads on a plate. It is nonsense. We should start thinking in terms of the good of this country and not just party politics. I certainly will be supporting the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health, both of whom have done extremely good jobs in very difficult and trying circumstances.
As much as I like Senator Devine, I have to say that I will take no lectures from a party that is elected to two parliaments and will not take its seats, yet claims massive expenses and wages in both. When the gauntlet was put down-----
That is not true.
That is not true. The Senator should get his facts right. He stands up all the time and does not know the facts.
I did not open my mouth when Senator Devine was talking. When the gauntlet was thrown down to Sinn Féin to form the Government here it ran away. We will take no lectures from Sinn Féin; its words are shallow.
I would appreciate it if the Leader could ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the Chamber to discuss the need to protect local and regional newspapers. I am calling on the Minister to set up a commission to review local and regional print media before it is too late. The Cairncross review was recently published in Britain. It came up with logical answers to protect credible local journalism, which is so important for the health of local democracy and local news. The Cairncross review also found that finding a way to support local news is now a matter of urgency. It recommended a study of online advertising, often called "news feeds", which are widely known from Facebook and Google. These often contain anything but news.
I recently discussed these findings with Mr. Johnny O'Hanlon, who most of us know from Local Ireland, which represents 35 local newspapers and printers throughout Ireland. He is adamant that an immediate review and revival plan for local media is urgently required. The Leader might ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come to the Chamber to discuss local and regional print media with us. I know that the issue is close to the Leader's heart, and that he has commented on it here before.
As a frequent user of trains I have become concerned, on a few levels, about the staffing of stations and trains, where unfortunately incidents of anti-social behaviour are on the increase.
I am disturbed that Irish Rail is proposing that stations such as Banteer, Millstreet-Sráid an Mhuilinn, Rathmore and Farranfore will be left without any member of staff.
What will I do with my luggage?
That is exactly the point. Who will help the Senator with his luggage? This will affect disabled people and elderly people, who need assistance from time to time. It is not going to be a runner. By contrast, the larger stations are well manned. Given the extent of anti-social behaviour, it is essential to have one train host on every train. I wonder what Irish Rail's policy is on drinking. I recently met a group of four who went on board with drinks in their hands. I do not know if they got more drink on board but they were certainly boisterous. They upset everybody else in the carriage but there was no train host to deal with them. I took this up with Joe, my own train host, on an early train this morning and he told me the story of a customer who used the intercom to communicate with the driver and got him to deal with it at the next station. There was an altercation, the driver suffered an injury and the train was held up for two hours while they waited for a substitute driver. CIÉ does a good job but the company has to be very careful about staffing levels at certain stations. A train host on every service is essential.
I support Senator Ó Céidigh in his request for a debate on the worthwhile report in which he has been very much involved.
I second Senator Norris's proposal to amend the Order of Business. I do not intend going into any great detail on Shane O'Farrell because I hope we will have the support of the House to make that amendment. Investigations are needed into his untimely death. I support the family's request for a commission of investigation into his death to be carried out. I acknowledge the enormous work that Fianna Fáil's Deputy Jim O'Callaghan has done on this. He spoke in the Dáil in great detail on 12 March 2018 and has, along with Senator Norris and others, championed the case. I ask Members to reference his words if we have this debate. His contribution in the Dáil was succinct and clearly set out a compelling case for the Government to act. I am happy to second the amendment and I hope that colleagues support this move.
I saw quite a number of photographs of Fianna Fáil local authority members at the rally online. I was not tracking everybody's Twitter account but I saw the Dublin Central candidate, Ms Mary Fitzpatrick, Councillor Paul McAuliffe from Dublin North West, and Councillor Frank O'Flynn from Cork. We do not necessarily assemble in a militaristic fashion-----
They must be plumpers.
-----like some other parties do.
Who would that be?
Enough said. Senator Richmond mentioned passports, which I was going to raise myself. Last Wednesday, I helped somebody apply online for a passport renewal. The office was reluctant to accept the photograph but we managed to produce one of sufficient quality. They said it would take ten working days, which would mean Wednesday of next week, but it arrived in the post this morning, after less than four working days. I commend the Minister, the Department and the staff who work in the production facility in Balbriggan. I urge anybody who is remotely able to use technology to use this service. I urge those who are not able to use it to ask somebody to help them. The process is incredibly simple and it is cheaper at €75 instead of €89.50 through Passport Express. It is much faster and it saves a lot of work.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the immediate skills shortage in secondary schools.
Many school principals, particularly in Dublin, and across the country are finding it difficult to recruit teachers of many subjects, including physics, chemistry, home economics, languages, especially Spanish, French, German and Irish in particular. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills, who is fairly new to his brief, to come into the House to discuss this matter. Senator Norris might not want to interrupt the Leader when I am trying to talk to him.
I called him, to be fair.
I would like the Leader to schedule a debate regarding what the Minister for Education and Skills and his Department plan to do to relieve this situation. It is becoming incredibly difficult to find teachers to fill vacant posts when they arise.
Last week in this Chamber I was critical of the Minister for Justice and Equality in terms of the inability of Senators to get an adequate debate on Garda resources and the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality over An Garda Síochána as a result of a number of incidents that happened on the north side of Dublin.
I cited the issue of a pipe bomb in Edenmore and the upsurge in anti-social behaviour. Since I made that contribution last week, we have had a fatal shooting in Darndale. In his response to my request for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, I appreciate the Leader was minded to do that. I want to get an assurance from him that he will see to that request.
I have expressed my frustration at an inability to get further than the suggestion that the Minister has no responsibility for operational matters in An Garda Síochána. I encourage the Leader to arrange such a debate in the House and to see how we can work together to ensure that people in communities across the city, northside, southside, outside Dublin and across the country, can feel safe and secure. It is not normal for somebody to be shot dead at 6.30 a.m. and then for children in that community to go to school as if it is something perfectly normal and for it not to feature that heavily in the news cycle of that day. When an incident occurs where somebody gets shot dead at 6.30 a.m. and it does not rock the foundations of these Houses, then something has gone very badly wrong. I suggest, respectfully, and perhaps I was not respectful last week-----
That is for sure.
-----that we would have a debate in this House with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the issue of crime, criminality, anti-social behaviour and fatal shootings.
I support Senator Coghlan on the issue he raised regarding services on trains and at various stations throughout the country. My station in Castlebar is no better. We have a station master, Mr. Noel Hogan, who is very approachable and does a great job but when he is off at various times during the week or at the weekend there is no cover for him.
As Senator Coghlan pointed out, if people board the train carrying booze and there is no train host onboard anything can happen. He outlined an incident where a train driver was injured and the train was held up for two hours. I support Senator Coghlan's call for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to address the services provided at train stations and by train hosts. Such abuse in this respect brings the issue of ensuring passenger safety into disrepute.
We need the Minister to come to the House to discuss this matter.
I wish to speak in support of Senator Norris seeking a debate on the death of Shane O'Farrell. We debated this issue on 14 June 2018 on the same day that the Dáil voted by a clear majority on the basis that the matter did warrant a public inquiry. I and others have been in correspondence with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, since then. He said in the Seanad on 14 June last year that he would reflect on the comments of Senators, that he would reflect on the Dáil vote and that he would repeat a commitment given to Lucia O'Farrell, Shane O'Farrell's mother, and the O'Farrell family regarding the question of a further investigation.
I know that Senator Norris has been proactive on the matter, as have others.
Senator Norris is like a hen with an egg today. He has been very restless.
I am looking after my colleagues' eggs.
Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption, please.
I am sure Senator Norris was being as proactive as usual on the issue. Nearly one year after the vote, we still have not received a response, or at least I have not.
There has been a response.
I have not received a response to my correspondence with the Minister, in which I asked him what he would do about the motion and so on. Will the Leader accede to Senator Norris's request for a debate on the issue in order that matters can be progressed? It is important for the family and to ensure public confidence in the policing system, particularly in dealing with road accidents. I ask the Leader to look favourably on Senator Norris's request.
I thank the 20 Senators who spoke for their contributions on the Order of Business.
Senators Craughwell, Conway-Walsh and Devine raised the issue of the national children's hospital. The Minister for Health has appeared before the Dáil and apologised. For some, it is now a question of who said what and who knew what when, rather than whether the hospital will be built, whether it will be the best hospital in the world and whether a political head on a plate will be demanded. The Sinn Féin Party has reverted to its usual playbook in seeking a resignation or dismissal, but that will not help to build the hospital.
It is called accountability.
I will respond to the Senator's comment. I reiterate that all Senators are disappointed, frustrated and annoyed at the cost overrun. It should not have happened, but it did. We must now ensure there will be value for money in building the hospital which will be the best children's hospital in the world, although it will not be the most expensive. We need to maintain a sense of perspective, rather than hysteria, in our debate. We are reprofiling a figure of €100 million out of a capital budget of €7 billion. Having regard to the cancellation of €27 million in funding for the A5 to Derry road project, I ask the Sinn Féin Senators to reflect on their lack of involvement and engagement at Stormont. On the question of accountability and apologies, we know well that Sinn Féin's approach to them is non-existent, unless its members are dragged in and forced to apologise. We know well how they behave.
In response to Senators Conway-Walsh and Devine on the nurses issue, I welcome the intervention of the Labour Court and its recommendation. I acknowledge that Senator Devine is trying to play to her gallery and constituency, but I am sure she knows that the Government has no part to play in the INMO process and its executive council which will now begin to ballot its members. It is independent of the Government-----
On a point of order, I did not say that.
The Senator did.
I know more about the issue than the Leader is suggesting.
It was not a point of order.
In any case, the Leader was wrong.
The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.
The Government believes the agreement reflects three principles, namely, that it is fair to taxpayers, public servants and nurses. I hope nurses will accept the recommendation of the Labour Court. We all recognise their value, centrality and importance in the health system.
To respond to Senator Higgins's question, I will be happy for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House to discuss the ecological matters she raised. The new EU-Singapore trade deal will lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs in this country. The House voted on a non-binding motion dealing with the CETA which was not necessarily related to concerns about investor quotas.
It certainly was.
Those on the Fianna Fáil benches still do not know on what they abstained or what they stand for, but, in fairness, we had a good debate in the House. The CETA is already a success, despite the misplaced concerns of others who should perhaps know better.
Senators Clifford-Lee, Humphreys, Reilly, Coghlan and Paddy Burke all referred to the issue of transport. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue and will come back to the issues that individuals have raised.
Senator Humphreys should recognise that under regulation 12 of the Social Housing Allocation Regulations 2011, a household that refuses two reasonable offers of tenancy in any 12 month period other than an offer in the choice-based letting procedure will not receive any further offers from any housing authority for a period of one year from the second refusal. That is already in situ. We need to get some perspective on the issue of housing. People refuse housing for a variety of issues. Some are serial refusers. Others have particular reasons and we accept that, but we must try to get a balance.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of food supplements. It is an interpretation of the tax code by Revenue which is independent of Government. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has a tax advisory group. As I said in the House last week, some people are peddling a specific line but should also recognise that certain medicines, folic acids, vitamins and mineral products, as licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, are still zero and will remain at that. We should have balance in what we say about the matter here. I hope that we can have common sense with regard to some of the issues addressed by Senator Gallagher.
Senator Ó Céidigh will be the author of a very fine report regarding small and medium enterprises. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, coming from the Border, is well aware of the complexities and importance of small and medium enterprises. I would be happy to have her to come to the House to address the matter.
Senators Richmond and Horkan raised the issue of passports and the need for debate on the passport system, which I would be happy to have.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of the Fórsa campaign to support school secretaries. It is an important issue which requires clarity and parity. We would all support it.
Senator McFadden raised the ONE campaign. To be fair to the Senator, she has raised the matter on many occasions, both in and outside this House. There is an issue relating to bed nights. We need to compliment ONE which has provided 44 bed nights, which I think the Senator said has covered 900 veterans and includes approximately 16,000 bed nights per annum. It is important that we support it and that we work to ensure that visibility and recognition is given to our veterans. To be fair to the Senator, she has raised this in the past.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the inquiry into Shane O'Farrell's death. We want the O'Farrell family to have full information, there has to be due process, and there has to be full accountability for those involved. On completion of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission inquiry, the Minister appointed Mr. Justice Haughton to carry out a scoping exercise. From any point of view, that should be able to continue and to carry out its work rather than having a debate on that. I am cognisant of the involvement of Senator Norris and do not want to be seen as offensive or unhelpful to the O'Farrell family and the need for full action. I know the Minister is not available today and he is certainly not available tomorrow, because if he was, he would be having more debate on the very important Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, about which I will speak to Senator Craughwell. I am prepared to offer Senator Norris a debate on the matter tomorrow afternoon without the Minister being present, if the Senator is amenable to that. I do not want to be unhelpful and do not want to be seen to be obstructionist. That is not my style. A scoping inquiry has been put in place. A process has been established. I do not think that we should have debates in the House in parallel with that. If Senator Norris is amenable to having a debate for an hour tomorrow without the Minister, I would be happy to do that, but otherwise I do not think that I can ask the Minister to come to the House at such short notice, knowing that he is not available today or tomorrow.
Will the Government oppose the motion?
On the basis of Senator Norris wanting the Minister to be here today, I will oppose it.
The Government will oppose it tomorrow.
No. I am offering Senator Norris an hour's debate tomorrow, without the Minister's presence, to allow the Senator the opportunity in the Seanad to have-----
I am asking the Leader whether the Government will oppose the motion tomorrow.
I am making an offer to the Senator of an hour's debate tomorrow on the Senator's motion without the Minister's presence.
I cannot answer the Senator's question right now.
The Leader does not know whether the Government will oppose the motion.
As of right now, I do not, but I will make-----
I see. I thank the Leader. That is helpful.
I am trying to be helpful to the Senator in terms of having-----
Perhaps if the Leader could clarify his position on tomorrow morning's Order of Business, the Senators could decide-----
The motion, as far as I understand, is just to have a debate on the Shane O'Farrell case. Is that correct?
The motion, as worded, is to have the debate today, so it is a matter for Senator Norris-----
I would be happy to have the debate tomorrow without the Minister's presence.
I understand that, but what concerns me is whether the Government will vote against the motion.
I cannot answer the Senator right now.
That is fine.
The Senator has the option to press the amendment or not. I do not think the Leader can say any more about it.
I would be happy to have the Minister come before the House to discuss the issues Senator Davitt raised about newspapers. His colleague, Senator Leyden, last week very eloquently and very colourfully debated the matter of local radio stations.
Senator Coghlan raised the very important issue of our small stations. I almost closed my eyes as Senator Coghlan was speaking about Banteer, Millstreet, Rathmore, Mallow and parts of Kerry. It was like going to the Munster football final long ago, when we were young. Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue as well. I am not sure we will be travelling to Killarney much with the Cork footballers at present, but we live in hope. Senator Coghlan might be best advised to table a Commencement matter on the issue, but in essence I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Horkan raised the skills shortage in education. We had a debate on education recently but we will have one again soon. I would be happy to discuss that element with the Senator in the House.
Senator Ó Ríordáin respectfully asked that the Minister for Justice and Equality come before the House. We have put the request in. It is important to recognise that the Minister has been in the House dealing with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Contrary to what Senator Craughwell believes, it is very important legislation which is a central part of the programme for Government. It is the obfuscation and filibustering of some of the members of the Senator's group that is causing the Minister to be here inordinately to discuss the Bill rather than having it passed-----
I am the one who is filibustering. I am not part of Senator Craughwell's group.
-----which then precludes the Minister from being able to come back in to discuss other justice issues. Senator Craughwell might talk to his own group about allowing the Bill to be fast-tracked.
It is doomed.
I ask Senator Norris to accept my olive branch to him. If not, I will have to oppose today's Order of Business on that basis.
I will put the matter to Senator Norris. He has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 83, motion 11, be taken for one hour on the conclusion of No. 2. In view of what the Leader has said, is the Senator pressing the amendment?
The Leader is very amenable but he cannot tell me whether he will vote against the motion. He obviously will vote against it. I have the numbers today. I am not sure I will have them tomorrow. I must therefore press the amendment.
On a point of information, I have offered Senator Norris a debate tomorrow. Whether the motion is put tomorrow is immaterial. We can oppose it tomorrow or oppose it today. It does not matter. The point is that he wants a debate on the issue.
To be fair to the Senator, I do not want to put him in a position but-----
I think there is an impasse here.
The impasse is solvable, though, because the Senator is getting what he wants tomorrow.
Yes, but Senator Norris is in pole position because he has proposed an amendment-----
Today he is not in pole position at all.
That is true. I am prepared to take the chance.
The Senator is pressing the amendment then.
The question is that the amendment be made-----
Senator Horkan wants to speak.
I think this is genuinely a point of order because we are discussing the Order of Business. Senator Norris seems to be concerned that tomorrow he will not get an opportunity to debate the motion because it will be shot down. However, my understanding from what the Leader has said - he might clarify - is that he is offering, without any vote-----
-----to put on the schedule tomorrow an hour's debate, without the Minister, on the matter, and tomorrow morning he will read out the Order of Business, including an hour of debate on the case of Shane O'Farrell-----
-----and he will not try to avoid doing that.
That is what I said.
But he will oppose it.
He will not - not tomorrow.
I did not say I would oppose it. To help Senator Norris, I have offered him an hour's debate tomorrow-----
And the Leader will not oppose it.
-----on the issue he proposed.
The Leader will not say that he will not oppose it.
On a point of order the Senators are at cross purposes. Senator Norris is concerned that the Leader may oppose the motion to be debated tomorrow.
I am offering Senator Norris the motion tomorrow, without the Minister, for an hour.
I think the nub of the issue-----
But the Leader will not say whether he will vote against it.
I am offering-----
It is a motion on the Order Paper that Senator Norris wants to debate. It is not just statements.
The nub of the issue is that Senator Norris wants an answer, which the Leader may not be able to give, on whether, if the motion is debated tomorrow, he will oppose or accept it. Senator Norris is still in pole position. Does he want to move the motion?
That is very clear. The Senator may be wrong or otherwise. The question is that the amendment be made-----
Can I ask a question before it goes to a vote? When does Senator Norris propose to have the motion put tonight?
Immediately after the Order of Business.
The proposal is that it be taken after No. 2.
The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is around anyway.
We are going around in circles.
On a point of order, if the Leader really wanted to be helpful to Senator Norris he would suspend the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 this evening and take Senator Norris's motion.
That is another option. I will put the question. Senator Norris, is the amendment being pressed?
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Daly, Paul.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Marshall, Ian.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Norris, David.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
It is most unusual, in a vote like this, to defer an item to a later time in the evening. I have never known it done.
I am sorry, I just want to finish this. When this proposal came from the bench, I remember wondering why the debate was to be after No. 2. I thought it must have been because something was going through without a vote. I am going to check the record to see what happened here.
On a point of order-----
Hold on a second.
The Order of Business-----
Can we just clarify-----
It is a matter for me to clarify. Senator Norris has posed a question. My understanding is clearly that our very esteemed and learned Clerk believes that what was put is exactly what the Senator proposed.
Well, it is not.
It may not have been what the Senator intended, but the Clerk is quite clear on it. We cannot undo what is done.
No. To be helpful, and to be fair to Senator Norris, while I do not want to aggravate the situation, it is still the case that the Minister is not available. What Senator Norris proposed was to be after No. 2. I am prepared to have the debate without the Minister tomorrow. I am also prepared to allow for debate on the motion subject to the availability of a Minister, if the House will agree to that.
Can we agree the Order of Business now?
I am quite prepared to be moderate on this issue. Will the Leader give me an undertaking that he will at least attempt to find a Minister for tomorrow?
I will talk to the Members and to Senator Norris and I will do my best, but I cannot give a guarantee now.
I understand that. In that case, I will accept the Leader's proposal.
I will do my best but I cannot guarantee anything. I have offered the Senator the option of having the debate without a Minister tomorrow.
The amendment has been passed. The Leader can consider it but if, as he has suggested, he opposes the Order of Business, the whole Order of Business for today will collapse. He should think clearly. I asked whether the Order of Business, as amended, was agreed to and the Leader opposed it.
On a point of order, is it possible for me to accept the Leader's offer at this stage? We can then pass a revised Order of Business.
I suggest that we agree the Order of Business, as amended. The Leader can then come back in an hour and tell the House that he has agreed with Senator Norris to do X or Y.
It should only take five minutes.
All right. He can come back in five minutes.
The Leader will come back inside five minutes with his suggestions.