The Order of Business is No. 1, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 4.45 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 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 7 p.m.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Today I express my disappointment about the comments made by Deputy McDonald concerning the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. She said she would not have confidence in any current member of the PSNI senior leadership team taking the helm of the organisation. I am very disappointed and surprised by these remarks and they very much undermine the role of the PSNI. From both sides of the community we spent so much time and many years building up and ensuring confidence in the police service. It was confidence that members of both the nationalist and unionist community could have in the institution. It seems Sinn Féin is hell-bent on destroying all the institutions in the North, first with the assembly and now the police service. Deputy McDonald should withdraw her remarks and apologise for them because they are very destabilising. It is very unfair on those who live in Northern Ireland to have the policing service undermined while not having an assembly.
I also raise the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, which I have mentioned in the House before. Where people are seeking re-entry visas and are legally in this country, they must apply for an appointment. I said before that bots have taken these appointment slots so that people can resell them. I raised the matter in October but it has not been resolved. It seems there is some sort of institutional racism against people in this country legally. The matter has been raised and lip service has been paid in the fixing of the problem but nothing has been done.
Before the introduction of the appointments system, people with visas living in this country who needed to re-enter the country after going home for an emergency, for example, could go to the Garda National Immigration Bureau on Burgh Quay for a meeting with a member of An Garda Síochána with responsibility for immigration. That cannot be done now and it is very unfair on those who are legally in the country. They deserve some sort of service as they pay their taxes. These people make a contribution, as they are largely nurses, doctors and others who are here legally. I call on the Government to ensure the system is corrected so that the appointments system is fair. I call on the Minister to ensure these people can meet a person if there is an emergency in their home and they have a visa to be in Ireland.
I also raise the sourcing of cannabis products. The Government has stated it is difficult to source these products but the UK has managed to import a large number of cannabinoid products from Canada. Many patients in Ireland suffer from multiple sclerosis or epilepsy and are not able to gain access to cannabinoid products that might help their illness. I call on the Government to have a look at the matter as people are crying out for access to these products. It is not fair that they do not have access to them despite the appropriate legislation being in place.
It has been brought to my attention that the Leader of this House believes the ongoing debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 is bringing the House into disrepute. It has been said that the almost 90 hours we have been debating the Bill has damaged the reputation of the Seanad.
On a point of information, Senator Craughwell should not mislead the House. He is peddling a line regarding the time for the Bill being debated.
The Leader will have ample opportunity to reply when responding to the Order of Business.
The Senator is incorrect and should give the facts.
The Leader will have ample opportunity to correct the Senator if he is wrong.
It is important to correct him about this immediately before it goes out to the public.
It will go out to members of the media as well.
We have wasted a minute already. I ask Senator Craughwell to continue.
As I said, it has been said that the time debating this legislation has damaged the reputation of the Seanad and, by implication, the reputation of all Members of the Seanad. While I do not know where the Leader has formed this view or what papers he is reading, since the commencement of debate in the Seanad, the following bodies have expressed their views. The Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption questioned whether the Bill was in line with European standards and whether it secured judicial independence. The European Commission, in a report in March 2018, was definitive in its view, which it stated explicitly, that the Bill was not in line with European standards. In an editorial published in November 2018, The Irish Times stated: "It is still not too late for the Government to scrap the ill-advised Judicial Appointments Bill being foisted on the country at the whim of the Minister for Transport".
Does the Senator take his lead from The Irish Times?
We know he does, except when it comes to the presidential election.
The Leader is only prolonging the debate.
I have a question for the Leader. Are those of us doing our damnedest to oppose this legislation by scrutinising and trying to change it the enemy from within or is allowing one single elected Member of Dáil Éireann to fundamentally interfere with the central tenet of our democracy the enemy?
That is Independents for us.
We all know the political responsibilities and pressures that the Leader of this House has to endure to ensure the Government programme passes through it but for him to intertwine-----
The Senator promised he would support the Government when he got elected. He said he would consult on every vote.
He has not consulted on one vote yet. He has broken his political promise. I have the text on my phone.
The Leader has a position of great responsibility and leadership.
It is not a time to take sick with stress though.
I ask him to acknowledge that by allowing Senator Craughwell to continue.
The Cathaoirleach is right. I am sorry.
By intertwining the fate or reputation of the Seanad with this legislation the Leader is being derogatory to the House.
That sounds like a senior counsel to me.
Nobody reading the transcript of the 90 hours of debate or witnessing it live could fault the quality of what is being debated or the public service benefit-----
The Senator did not write that himself, in fairness.
-----of having a former Tánaiste, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Attorney General to point out, line by line and word by word, how awful this legislation is and how dangerous it is to the independence and quality of the Judiciary. I ask the Leader not to sully the reputation of this House because of the political demands and pressures placed on him. Thank God for the checks and balances built into our Constitution that when an Executive has gone rogue and allowed a single individual to dictate the future of our Judiciary, our institutions, including the Seanad, can still provide a check for however long it takes to defend the administration of justice.
I ask the Senator to conclude his prepared script.
Well said. Why did I not think of that?
The only reason the people believe this House-----
This sounds like a senior counsel's opinion.
The more the Leader interrupts, the longer Senator Craughwell will speak. The Senator's contribution has already lasted for four minutes and 20 seconds because he has been interrupted.
I am prepared to stand here all day if that is what it takes.
I will not allow that. I ask the Senator to conclude and he can-----
Snide remarks were made about this having been prepared by a senior counsel. It was not prepared by a senior counsel.
Was it a junior counsel?
It is a prepared script because the matter is important.
The Senator has made his point.
The point I am trying to make is that if it takes from now until hell freezes over, we will continue to debate this awful Bill to see to it that it is changed into something worthwhile or the Government wakes up and scraps it altogether.
I want to address what has just been said by Senators on my left and their party leader about the non-disclosure of information by the PSNI. Does Fianna Fáil think it is okay for the PSNI to withhold vital, significant and sensitive information? That is my question for Deputy Micheál Martin. Is Fianna Fáil okay with that?
We are talking Sinn Féin here.
I do not want a debate between two parties. Will the Senator please address the Chair?
I wish to ask a number of questions.
I am not addressing Senator Noone.
Fianna Fáil is.
Cease the interruptions. Please continue.
I know the Fianna Fáil Party has a confidence and supply arrangement with the Government. If the Fianna Fáil Party has full confidence in the PSNI, does it think it is okay that the PSNI has withheld vital significant information? It is not me who is saying that it is significant information; it is Dr. Michael Maguire, the police ombudsman. There are at least 20 families across seven counties who are impacted by that. Have representatives from Fianna Fáil spoken to these families?
Have its representatives asked these families what they want?
Have they total disregard for these families? That is the reason that last week we asked for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to come to this House to tell Members what the Government was doing about this issue. Is the Government going to turn its back? If Fianna Fáil thinks it is okay to have no accountability, saying that is fine, and the computer was old, there was nothing to see, I am sorry. The Fianna Fáil Party is ignoring its own bedfellows in the North, the SDLP. The SDLP has even said that this should not be happening and that it needs to be stopped. Fianna Fáil needs to make up its mind. I cannot figure out how a political party in the South could not think it was wrong for a police force to withhold this vital information to prevent those families from having the ombudsman's report they have waited decades for. Those in the North could then say they had seen Dr. Maguire's report. However, Dr. Maguire had to come back and tell them that he did not have the information because the police withheld it from him. Does Fianna Fáil think that is okay? That is not okay with me. It is not okay with Sinn Féin and we will not stand over it.
If the Fianna Fáil Senator wants to stand over it, stand four-square behind it. We are not standing over it and we will make no apologies for that. Trying to play party politics at the expense of these families is wrong. Perhaps one of the Fianna Fáil Senators would respond to me if he or she has spoken to the families in question because they are the people at the centre of this. Fianna Fáil might want to cover up the collusion that has gone on for decades but certainly we are not going to cover it up any longer.
I wish to highlight how shocked and angered I was during the weekend having read the comments of the chief executive of Dublin City Council, Mr. Owen Keegan, on homelessness. He stated:
The best way to solve homelessness in Dublin would be to provide no beds. When you go out of your way to increase accommodation and improve the standards of that accommodation it's a much more attractive place to be.
He later clarified that his comments were intended as a joke, stating that he was trying to make a point that if we really want to cut numbers, then cut the service. I do not find this funny. It is deeply unfair on the people who are suffering the stress, indignity and hardship of trying to look after their families in the midst of homelessness.
I know a person very close to me who is living in a hub in Crumlin. This beautiful young woman, who is proud that she is doing her best, has two beautiful young girls but is separated from her partner. She has been living in the hub in Crumlin for the past 15 months. She carries the shame of not having her own home and it is 100% not funny. The complete lack of empathy in these comments is unacceptable and it really saddens me that these are the sorts of statements being made by the head of Dublin City Council, which has such a pivotal role to play in fixing this crisis.
It fundamentally misrepresents the problems we are facing. People are not in this situation because it is attractive. They are there because of an acute lack of social and affordable housing. Marginal improvements in homelessness services do not create homelessness. We should be talking about the root cause of homelessness, which is an unwillingness to build social housing. This was something we did for decades and it is frustrating to see officials downplaying the importance of public sector housing provision in light of this ongoing crisis. As far as I can see, no statements have issued from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in response to these comments.
I would appreciate it if the Leader were to ask the Minister to clarify that he does not share the view that providing acceptable and compassionate homelessness services is contributing to the problem.
I wish to raise the issue of the details of the asylum claim of Ellie Kisyombe, a local election candidate for the Social Democrats in the north inner city, being splashed on the front page of a national newspaper last Sunday. I find it disturbing that, out of approximately 1,000 candidates hoping to contest the local elections in May, this woman was selected for investigation by the newspaper and made the subject of a front page story. The newspaper could only have obtained the information on which the article is based from a leak in the Department of Justice and Equality. Will the Leader request the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to come to the House to discuss this disturbing matter to allow him the opportunity to deny that the information came from the Department?
I formed part of a panel with Ms Kisyombe some weeks ago and I said it was quite brave of her to put her name forward because it would open her life and situation to intense scrutiny. That is exactly what has happened. Official Ireland has found a way to try to put her back in her box by means of a screaming headline on the front page of a supposedly reputable newspaper. This House should not stand for it. There is a line that we cannot cross. The picketing of politicians' private homes is out of line and so is fishing into the personal details of a person's story and leaking them to a newspaper. The Minister for Justice and Equality should address the House on this issue. If it happened to Ellie Kisyombe, it could happen to anybody who seeks public office or anybody in the direct provision system who wishes to speak about the conditions in or the reality of that system. In recent years, this House has had a proud cross-party tradition, regardless of political allegiances, of Senators on the Government side and the Opposition speaking out about the injustices of the direct provision system. I can only imagine the horror Ms Kisyombe felt when she was singled out by a newspaper, having decided to run for election. A line has been crossed. The Minister or his representatives should come to the House to discuss whether a leak emanated from the Department, which is my suspicion. If that is so-----
What is the basis for that suspicion?
The Leader will have a chance to respond.
Senators must be fair. They cannot make outlandish statements which they cannot prove.
If the Leader thinks it an outlandish suggestion-----
The Senator's time is up.
That may be so, but I was interrupted.
The Senator is accusing the Minister of leaking information.
Personal information regarding an asylum seeker ended up on the front page of a newspaper. That information was held within the Department of Justice and Equality. If the Leader contends that it is outlandish to suggest that the information was leaked, he does not know the Department as well as I do. The Minister should be given the opportunity to come to the House and tell us that the information was not leaked by the Department.
On the matter, I was horrified that the information was published in a Sunday newspaper. Although I do not believe that the Minister or his staff, who always act appropriately, would leak such information, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that at some stage an official of the Department-----
One cannot say that.
There is nothing beyond the realms of possibility and it could have happened but the bottom line is that it should not have happened. It should be noted in this House that it happened and it was not appropriate. Nobody will ever get to the bottom of how it happened but it is regrettable that it did.
I have to thank the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, for the rural regeneration fund, of which County Clare got almost €7 million. Lahinch Seaworld and Leisure Centre got €2.8 million, €900,000 went to Loop Head lighthouse, €1.7 million went to the Vandeleur Walled Garden in Kilrush and more money went to Holy Island. That said, there were projects that did not succeed in getting funding, and two in particular. One project which did not get funding was the Broadford sewerage scheme and the other was the Cooraclare sewerage scheme. Both sewerage schemes have been promised for decades. The ground for the treatment plant in Cooraclare was even purchased and several hundred thousands euro were spent but it just came to a standstill, in spite of commitments through previous Governments and the local authority.
I submitted this issue as a Commencement matter but it was ruled out of order because the Department did not want to come in and deal with the issue. It said that it was exclusively for Irish Water. It is my belief that the Government runs Irish Water so the fact that Irish Water was able to opt out of dealing with this as a Commencement matter is regrettable.
My question is simple. Can the Leader, on behalf of the people of Cooraclare in west Clare and Broadford in east Clare, communicate to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, that when any development in either of these villages is applied for, the message that comes back from the local authority is that it is premature ahead of a sewage scheme being constructed? The problem is that there are people in rural Ireland who are prepared to invest in development but it is not happening because of this type of situation. The Leader might ask the Minister to communicate with those communities who are unhappy with this and in his own good time, he might organise a debate on small village sewerage schemes because we need to get to the bottom of this.
I want to address an issue that has been raised previously, namely, VAT on food supplements. The Revenue Commissioners published its revised guidance at the end of last year on how various food supplements would be treated for VAT purposes on 1 March 2019. This will have serious implications for many food and food supplement items and it will end up costing the end consumer far more.
In the Revenue review, it referred to various items which would continue to be deemed to be food items and therefore be exempt from VAT. Typically, these would be products that are licensed or authorised by the Health Products Regulatory Authority. However, from 1 March 2019 many items will be considered food supplements and will be liable for the standard rate of VAT at 23%. This new treatment is extremely broad. Many items have a zero rate of VAT and will now be subject to 23% VAT. This will mean that the cost of those items is likely to increase substantially over the coming months and that is the biggest fear that people who are coming into my clinics have been expressing. I had a lady in with me recently who is on Macushield. It is a macro degeneration and it costs about €25 per box. That will go up by €5.75 extra so it will be €31. These are elderly people who have come to my clinic and that is just one example. We have continually asked the Minister to review this issue and to address these concerns but we do not seem to be taken seriously. The Taoiseach stated:
Food supplements very rarely do anything for our health. They're mostly snake oil and just cost you money.
That is not right. It was an extremely unhelpful comment and he should not have made it.
I recently joined an awareness rally for Lyme disease. One of the campaigners comes from Carlow and she relies on health supplements so she can live a normal life because she has Lyme disease. She spends over €200 a month on health supplements prescribed by her consultant. If her supplements are hit with this tax, she will not be able to afford them. We cannot on the one hand counsel awareness of diseases such as Lyme disease and then not help the victims. I call on the Minister to come into the Seanad before 1 March.
We need to help the people that need these supplements. There are people who genuinely need these supplements and they will not be able to afford them. I am asking the Leader to get the Minister in here so that we can get some-----
He has been in.
When is he coming in?
Senator Murnane O'Connor had a Commencement matter on this subject.
I did not have one.
Other members have.
This is a massive issue. If we do not address it, there are people who will not be able to afford to purchase their supplements from 1 March.
I want to make one or two comments on Brexit. I know about imports and exports, the economy, jobs, the Border, violence and the lack of certainty regarding the future. Something very interesting was said about Ulster unionism last night. It was actually said about Senator Richmond, who has been absolutely outstanding as a voice on Brexit, as has Mr. Michael Harding. Mr. Harding is a writer and a philosopher, as the House knows. He said that we have so much in common with Northern Ireland, the Northern tradition and Ulstermen in theatre, language, poetry, drama and music. I am not hearing any of that. Senator Richmond spoke about his unionist grandparents who lived in Cavan.
All communication at this stage in the negotiation has to be open, taking in all strata, all levels and all kinds. It should not be limited to economic issues or those pertaining to the Border or violence. I refer to music, literature and drama. One of Seamus Heaney's lines was "take a last turn in reasonable light". He considered himself an Ulster Irishman and an Irish Ulsterman. I refer to Beckett, Wilde, C.S. Lewis, Louis MacNeice and Friel, who attended to the area of language and its power. They considered what can happen to us when language turns from what we want to happen into something far more murky and violent. I refer to the works of Brian Moore, Flann O'Brien, Glenn Patterson, Michael Longley, Jennifer Johnston, Bernard MacLaverty and Marie Jones. I did not even start on the musicians. I refer also to Benedict Kiely and William Trevor, who said he was a "lace-curtain Protestant". In his poem, "Fosterage", dedicated to Michael McLaverty, Seamus Heaney wrote:
‘Listen. Go your own way.
Do your own work ...
But to hell with overstating it:
‘Don't have the veins bulging in your Biro.’
That seems to be what it has become. We need all strata of communication to be open. What is wrong with asking artists, philosophers, writers and dramatists to speak about this? The way forward cannot always be political. There are thousands of different ways forward now. I just wanted to make that point. I will leave you with this line from a comedy song by Frank McCrory, which describes a lot of what I am hearing on television:
Sea-lions, sharks, alligators and whales
With mouths that would swallow a truck ...
We need to be very careful about how we move forward. We must do the best for both our islands, traditions and peoples and have respect for them all.
I wish to raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick and the scaremongering that has been going on. This is the second or third week that misinformation has been put out there. The Minister for Health indicated that he realises that University Hospital Limerick has been neglected for quite a while with regard to the need for additional beds and the issues colouring his visit. He acknowledged the issues there. He has committed to providing 60 modular beds, which are to start this year and not in 2020 as has been suggested.
The Minister has been quite clear in his message that the 60 beds are going to be mentioned in the capital plan, even though the capital plan has not yet come forward to be signed off on. This is most important because some Deputies were speaking about this on many local radio stations in the mid-west this morning. It caused major upset to people living in the area. I had many calls to my office. I heard from one lady who was very distraught. That is due to the misinformation out there. It is so important that we set the record straight. The 60 modular beds will be delivered.
It will happen in two phases, with enabling works and then building works. The process may take anything up to ten months. The delay was because there was an objection to An Bord Pleanála during the planning process but this has now been resolved. I am glad to say that there is planning permission in place but it is important to get the message out that the 60 modular beds will be delivered. The work will start this year and will be completed either before the end of this year or early in 2020.
I remind Senators that if an issue is raised on the Commencement and I accept it, then it should not be raised again in the Seanad, either on the same day or the day before. Some people seem to want two bites the cherry but that is unfair to the Leader and to the Minister who has to respond.
I want to be even-handed with the Fianna Fáil leader, Senator Ardagh, but I lived on the Ormeau Road for over 11 years and I raised my family there. The friends and neighbours who were shot on the Ormeau Road were my friends and my neighbours. We knew when we gathered in the Hatfield House that night, in mourning, in grief and in shock, that something was amiss with the activity of the RUC on the Ormeau Road. Instead of asking Sinn Féin to apologise, the Senator should apologise to the people - my friends and my neighbours - who rang me this morning to ask me to stand up for them and make their voices heard. It is important for us not to dance around these issues but to try and build communities on an honest basis.
I want to move an amendment to the Order of Business and ask the Leader to bring in the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, as was promised a few weeks ago following a request from Fianna Fáil. I asked last week and I was told he would be here in the next few weeks but we may not have a Minister for Health tomorrow so I ask the Leader to bring the Minister in to answer questions on the costs of the national children's hospital.
I commend Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on her contribution. I acknowledge our poets and writers through the generations and their contribution to biodiversity. I ask the Leader to let the Minister know of an article by Dr. Liam Lysaght, director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford, in today's edition of The Irish Times. His article acknowledges the loss of biodiversity and reflects his concern about the issue. He makes six policy recommendations, of which I would like the Leader to make the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, aware. If we do not do something about biodiversity loss, everything will be destroyed because that is the base of the food chain and of all parts of the ecosystem, not just that relating to humans. Our ecosystem is essential to all life on the planet. We have major problems with climate change but Ireland is not stepping up to the mark at all. Dr. Lysaght's article is a fine one and the recommendations it contains represent a good step forward.
Members of this House raise issues of concern but it is also important to raise good news stories. I refer to the CSO figures which have just been released and which show the highest ever number of people working in this country, at 2.28 million, with the number of additional jobs created in the past 12 months standing at 50,500. Some 48,000 of the latter are full-time jobs. This means that over 1,000 jobs were created each week in 2018 and that is a good news story. It is as a result of having stability, good leadership and making it attractive for businesses to establish and grow here.
That is extremely important. It is also important that we have access to export markets. We will face many challenges in that regard in the coming months in the context of Brexit. I hope we will find a satisfactory solution to the latter.
I wish raise another matter which came to my attention recently. It concerns various people who have had a very difficult time in terms of housing in recent years. I am talking about people who had to sell their homes because they ended up in negative equity as a result of losing their jobs. In some families, both the husband and wife, or both partners, may have lost jobs. It could also be the case that couples separated. I am finding that they are back on their feet and are on good money but none of the banks will lend to them because they ran into difficulties previously. I am also finding that they are not entitled to apply for local authority loans because they have already owned houses. The regulation in that regard needs to be amended. People should not be penalised for the rest of their lives for something they did not cause. They happened to be in a difficult situation at the time, which they had no hand, act or part in creating, and I do not believe they should be penalised for the rest of their lives for that. This is an issue we should bring to the Minister's attention. He should come to the House to deal with it and to consider the changes that need to be made in the regulations in order to ensure that people who are now back on their feet and want to buy again are entitled to apply for local authority loans, thereby ensuring that they can have homes of their own again.
I second Senator Devine's amendment to the Order of Business. Like Senator Black, I wish to reflect on the comments made by the chief executive of Dublin City Council in The Sunday Business Post last weekend. To remind the Leader, he stated, "The best way to solve homelessness in Dublin would be to provide no beds." He also believes that providing quality emergency accommodation would create a system whereby people would not want to leave. He went on to state, "The more you do in terms of service the more it becomes attractive". Those comments show a huge degree of ill judgment on the part of someone who holds an influential position in terms of tackling the housing and homelessness issues and the crisis of rough sleeping in this city. We all know well that it is a crisis. On the day on which those comments were made, a man died in a homeless services unit, something that is all too constant among Dublin's homeless. People are homeless because of a lack of social and affordable housing. No one wants to rely on homeless services. People want security, certainty and a sufficient number of homes to be built so that they can have a roof over their heads.
The normalisation of homelessness is incredibly harmful to our most vulnerable people. The last time we had an issue like this, it involved the former chair of the Housing Agency. I saw him on RTÉ and I asked, "Who let this fellow out?" Not only did he say that homelessness was normal once, he said it again a few days later. This shows a distinct lack of care and understanding of the complexities in terms of how people become homeless. Those who want to normalise homelessness should consider going out and talking to rough sleepers to see how they feel about our services. They will not be long finding them at night. Fewer services means more tents. We only have to look at San Francisco. The chief executive of Dublin City Council should apologise.
Last Thursday, when the revelations came to light about the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland's investigations and the withholding of what he deemed sensitive and significant information from those investigations, I asked the Deputy Leader if the Minister for Justice and Equality could come before the House. These issues are very sensitive and emotive, as we have already seen here today. I will ensure that I temper my remarks, conscious of the victims concerned, but there are a number of points that need to be made and a number of issues that need to be addressed.
I want to refer to Senator Ardagh's speech. I have a feeling — I do not say this disrespectfully — that she does not mean to cause any additional hurt or trauma for the families and that she was handed a script to recite. It is worth reflecting on that. Many words were missing from the address this morning. These included "victims", "the Ormeau Road bookmaker's", "Councillor Eddie Fullerton", "the UDA", "the UVF", "Special Branch", "murder", "Police Ombudsman", "accountability", "truth" and "justice". What we are talking about here relates to some 30 killings by British security services or, indeed, their proxies, loyalist paramilitaries. Everything else is just a distraction. That is what we should be talking about in the here and now. Through their solicitors, families have asked that the Irish Government scrutinise how the omission or deliberate withholding, or whatever it may prove to be, came to pass.
Like Senator Devine, I grew up a short distance from the Ormeau Road bookmaker's. I know many of the families affected and survivors. Our constituency office is just a few doors up from the bookmaker's. I would have occasionally gone for a pint in the Hatfield House bar and I worked in the local Gaelscoil so I know the area very well. I know the families there have waited 27 years for truth and justice. Their hearing that the PSNI has withheld significant and sensitive information does not warrant a shouting match back and forward here; it warrants serious consideration and reflection by all of us and the Government. I have heard various questions asked, including about Sinn Féin. We could get into this if people want but I do not believe it does the victims any good.
Damien Walsh was 17 and on a youth training scheme at the Dairy Farm complex on the night he was killed. He went to work in a coalyard. He was not actually meant to be working on the night. He changed his shift so he could go out with his girlfriend to the pictures the following night. The UFF came into the courtyard and shot Damien upwards of six times in the back. That is bad enough. When talking about these cases, I do not believe Damien's mother, Marian, would appreciate people shouting back and forward and asking about this case or that. I think Marian would appreciate it if people took the time to reflect on the loss of her son and the fact that, when he was shot and killed by the UFF, there was an undercover British army intelligence unit watching the coal depot that did not intervene.
These are the kinds of cases we are talking about. They pertain to seven counties and involve 30 murders, including that of Councillor Eddie Fullerton in Buncrana, County Donegal. I ask again that, as per the families' request, the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to comment on the revelations during an available slot next week and address the families, given their concerns, and indicate the Irish Government's view on this and the action it hopes to take.
I thank the 14 Members who contributed on the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Devine and Ó Domhnaill raised the remarks of the Sinn Féin leader regarding the appointment of a new PSNI Chief Constable. Notwithstanding the last remarks made and the contribution of Senator Ó Donnghaile to the effect that victims on all sides of the political divide in the North are looking for truth and justice, are grieving and do not want in any way to be seen to denigrate their loved ones or their own grief, and the fact that we all want reconciliation, it is important that the Senator and other Members put in context the fact that Sinn Féin has no authority to dictate what can be said and to whom. To me, it seems to have no regard for authority at all. It is absolutely destructive in the way it approaches things.
Give me a break.
Sinn Féin pulled down the assembly in the North.
All it can do in these Houses-----
Choose between marriage equality and caring about equality.
-----is to put down motions of no confidence looking for a political head.
The Leader might address the issue.
It has no sense of how to fix anything or how to solve anything. It does not accept any responsibility-----
The Leader might address the concerns of the families here.
-----and it opposes everything. In the context of Senator Ó Donnghaile's contribution, I understand and acknowledge the remarks of the ombudsman, Dr. Maguire. Nobody condones or supports the concealing or withholding of information for whatever reason. I note the report. I am not here as an apologist for anybody but there are two parts to what I am speaking about.
Perhaps that is why confidence is so low in policing. One can understand why the confidence is so low.
Senator Ó Donnghaile has a one dimensional view of the world and that is his entitlement.
I do not.
To be fair, the Senator does.
I do not. Does the Leader want to go up on the Ormeau Road with me?
I have been up there. I will walk with the Senator any day.
Does the Leader want to come up to the Ormeau Road and meet the families?
I will walk with Senator Ó Donnghaile any day.
I will walk with the Senator any day up there.
I will take the Leader up on that.
I have friends of mine, as I have said to Senator Ó Donnghaile previously, and I would be happy to go up there with him any time.
I am a very open person. I was the first Oireachtas health committee Chair to bring the committee to Stormont-----
-----to have a joint sitting there.
We welcomed, collectively, in this Chamber, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Senator Ó Donnghaile's party colleague, who gave a very impressive contribution here. Let me make it clear that I do not come with any dimension other than open-mindedness but Senator Ó Donnghaile's party has a one-dimensional view.
I will challenge Senator Ó Donnghaile on this. The Senator's own party colleague, Mr. Gerry Kelly MLA, stated in contradiction of Senator Ó Donnghaile's party leader, that there were people within the PSNI who were capable of the job. Mr. Kelly stated that Senator Ó Donnghaile's party leader did not know the top brass of the PSNI. In terms of policing, if we have learned anything from the mistakes of the Troubles or if we learned from the mistakes that we made down here, there is no place for political involvement in policing. It should be independent and devoid of political interference. Senator Ó Donnghaile's own party is against political policing.
That is the ombudsman telling us.
The Senator is either for-----
The ombudsman told us.
One cannot be all things to all people. One cannot interfere in a political process which is independent and transparent to appoint a new PSNI Chief Constable. Senator Ó Donnghaile has his own party members on the policing board who are quite capable of appointing someone. I would make that point. Senator Ardagh is well within her remit to come into this Chamber today and make her contribution in the way she did.
Tomorrow Senator Ardagh might mention the victims. Senator Buttimer might mention the victims tomorrow.
There were other victims.
What will they do with the hiding of evidence?
Senator Ó Donnghaile talks about looking after victims and this is the victims they have made.
There is no evidence.
Through the Chair. Respect the Chair.
The Senator did know what I am talking about. They wanted us to get involved as a reasonable party in Northern Ireland.
If the Senators are going to continue-----
If Senators Ardagh and Devine are going to continue to have a conversation here, I will suspend the House for 20 minutes.
All this has done is expose-----
Please let the Leader respond.
I hope the people of the North are listening.
-----want to achieve, despite the rhetoric of some, the continuation of reconciliation on our island. There are victims on all sides of the political debate and divide who are looking for justice-----
-----and truth. That applies north of our island - orange, green or white-----
-----and, in fact, down South. There are members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces who were killed and whose families are grieving today and who require answers.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the INIS. As the Senator rightly said, there was a significant issue around the system put in place. The re-entry visa system has change and will again change in 2019. The current online system is to be replaced sometime this year. I have not got a timeline for the Senator on that. I accept the point the Senator makes regarding the need for interpersonal engagement. We all have members of our own community who come in to talk to us about their visa requirements. The lack of a human interface needs to be changed immediately.
I do not have an answer on the question raised about cannabis products. A Commencement matter might prove an expeditious means of getting an answer.
Senator Craughwell made a fine contribution on the Judicial Appointments Bill. In order that we understand each other and to enable Senator Craughwell to amend his prepared script so that it does not require correction, we have had two hours of debate on the Bill on Report Stage and 64 hours of debate on Committee Stage. I fully understand that people have different points of view on the Bill. I reiterate that Government or other legislation has been opposed only twice on the Order of Business and that related to the scheduling of the Judicial Appointments Bill. Members will be aware that since I became Leader, I have never opposed any Senator bringing a Bill before the House to move it to the next Stage. I have always accepted that. However, it is important that we recognise that part of the job of this House is to scrutinise, debate and pass legislation and to make statements. By any stretch of the imagination, 66 hours of engagement on the Judicial Appointments Bill is enough.
Which statement was factually incorrect?
I ask Senators to reflect and replay the proceedings here and look at some of the interaction, the filibustering and childish behaviour-----
Were Standing Orders breached at any stage?
-----involving the calling of quorums and walk-through votes. All of this casts this House in a poor light among commentators, Members and people who watch proceedings every day. I have received emails from people who watch Oireachtas TV complaining about the way in which this Bill is being delayed. I am all for Members having a right to express their views, but 66 hours of debate for a Bill that has excited many people's interest is fair enough. However, I put it to Senator Craughwell that there comes a point when a time limit needs to be applied. I am very much aware that Senator Craughwell and other members of his group oppose the Bill. I stand over my remarks that some of the behaviour is unacceptable and not parliamentary.
On a point of information, the Leader is entitled to make his opinion known. However it is the job of Senators to oppose legislation and try to correct it when it is wrong.
The Senator should resume his seat.
I said that.
We have done nothing but use the parliamentary procedures available to us.
I think Senator Craughwell is saying that full parliamentary scrutiny by whatever means is appropriate under Standing Orders. I have been on different sides of this in practice but I agree with that bit.
I remember fondly the Cathaoirleach's opposition to the Harbours Bill and his stirring and steadfast defence of his views on it. Other Members may have learned from that in their deliberations on the Judicial Appointments Bill. However, Senator Craughwell protests too much.
The Leader has a hard neck.
Senator Black raised the remarks made by the chief executive of Dublin City Council on homelessness, as did Senator Warfield. The way we can solve the issue of homelessness is to create a platform whereby we can build more houses, increase supply of private and social housing and make housing affordable. That is what the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is committed to and I am not prepared to say anything beyond that.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to Ellie Kisyombe. Information relating to her should not have been revealed in any newspaper. There should not have been any disclosure by anyone concerning her personal circumstances.
As a democrat, I welcome her candidacy and I wish her well. It is certainly not my intention to bring the Minister to the House on the basis of hearsay, to come to the matter raised by Senator Ó Ríordáin.
Senator Conway raised the issue of a number of projects in Clare. I join with him in congratulating the Minister, Deputy Ring, on his stewardship of the Department of Rural and Community Development. I believe the matter he raised concerning projects in Clare is best served through a Commencement matter.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of VAT on food supplements. Every week since the Revenue decision to alter VAT, a Member of the House has spoken on it on the Order of Business. I have replied on every occasion that either the Minister or a Minister of State has been here in regard to the issue. It is important to understand that while Revenue removed the concession, oral medicines for humans, including certain folic acids and other vitamin and mineral products, are exempt, as is infant food, and they are all at the zero rate. As the Senator knows, products licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority are also at the zero rate. The Minister has put in place a process under the tax strategy group which will report back, and when that report comes back, we will have the debate. I understand the issues raised by the Senator and it is important that we bring clarity to the situation. However, there is also a bit of hype in some quarters, which is their prerogative.
Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of Brexit. In a very fine contribution, Senator O'Donnell highlighted the importance of hearing different voices on Brexit and of those voices, first, being able to articulate a viewpoint and, second, of that viewpoint being listened to and heard. I commend her contribution. As we enter the critical phase, the endgame around Brexit, it is important that the voice of the centre, the voice of reason, is heard, rather than the one extreme we are hearing the whole time in this debate.
Yes. I welcome the clarification by Senator Byrne and the Minister in regard to University Hospital Limerick and the 60 modular beds being delivered this year. It is important that message is promulgated from here.
I understand Senator Devine's frustration regarding the Minister for Health and I know Senator Ardagh has raised the matter before. The difficulty we have is that the Minister was in the other House twice last week and our schedule did not allow for him to come to this House on another day. The Minister is in the other House on a motion of no confidence tomorrow. To be honest, I am endeavouring to have the Minister come to the House and, earlier today, my office was reminding the Minister's office that we have a request for him to come in. To be fair to Senator Ardagh, she did not divide the House on the matter two weeks ago and I hope Senator Devine will not do so today. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House at the earliest convenience. We are not sitting on Thursday, as the Senator knows. I would be happy to have him come to the House this evening, if possible, but it is highly unlikely, although I have not been able to check my phone. I would be happy for him to come in next week and I will give a commitment to do that. I apologise that we have not had the Minister in, to acknowledge Senator Ardagh's request of two weeks ago.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of Dr. Liam Lysaght's warning about the 60% loss of biodiversity across the globe, which is an alarming figure. Equally, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, spoke about the need for action with the IFA and farmers recently. Government action to tackle climate change is, as the Taoiseach said, the next big progressive cause. We need to step up our response to the issue of climate change. I am confident that, through the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and Members of this House, such as Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Lombard, Mulherin and others, we can reach cross-party consensus on how we tackle the issue of climate change. I would be happy to have that continuing debate with the Minister in the House.
Senator Colm Burke raised two issues. First, he welcomed the fact that, today, we have 2.28 million people at work, with 50,000 jobs created in 2018, or 1,000 a week. As the Senator rightly said, this illustrates the importance of stability and of having a Government committed to having people at work.
The other point raised by Senator Colm Burke on the entitlement of people who were the previous owners of houses to local authority loans and housing is something on which we need to have a debate. We need a change in outlook and I concur with Senator Colm Burke. Many people today are in the unfortunate world of negative equity and we must do everything we can to get people back on their feet to be able to stay in their own homes and have access to an affordable or local authority loan. A person who sold a house because of desperation should not be penalised forever. I agree with Senator Colm Burke on this.
I would be happy to try to reach an agreement with Senator Devine on the Minister coming to the House rather than dividing the House. If not, I will have to await the Senator's proposal on when she wants the Minister to come to the House.
Senator Devine has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the cost of the construction of the national children's hospital be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I am not sure of the protocol but rather than dividing the House-----
The difficulty is there is only one bite of the cherry.
I was on my feet and, to be fair, I am endeavouring to get the answer for Senator Devine.
If we defer it, Senator Divine will not have an opportunity to press the issue.
I will press it.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Daly, Paul.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Nash, Gerald.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Burke, Colm.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lawless, Billy.
- Lawlor, Anthony.
- Lombard, Tim.
- Marshall, Ian.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.