An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.

With your indulgence, a Chathaoirligh, I welcome to the Visitors Gallery the friends and guests of Senator Ardagh, the leader of Fianna Fáil in the House.

I welcome the members of the public from Dublin South-Central and hope they will have a lovely day. It is great to see them in the Visitors Gallery.

I express my disgust and disappointment at the Government's delay in dealing with very high insurance premiums, not just for car users but also for business owners for public liability insurance. One of the reasons for the high premiums is the enormous payouts in personal injury cases. Under the Judicial Council Bill which was passed on Second Stage in this House in 2017, there were to be judicial guidelines on payments in personal injury cases. We are told that there is a delay in taking the legislation on Committee Stage because the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is still going through the House.

I do not agree with this. There is no reason whatsoever that we cannot bring the Judicial Council Bill to the House. In the meantime, the Minister has asked the Judiciary and the Chief Justice to set up a non-statutory committee to deal with guidelines for personal injury payments. However, we should all agree that putting these guidelines on a statutory footing is the best and firmest way to proceed. Today, therefore, I give notice to the House that I will propose to amend the Order of Business next week to allow for the Judicial Council Bill to be brought to Committee Stage. I am giving one week's notice in order that the House will have an opportunity to submit amendments to the Bill, and it is for this reason I raise the matter today.

The second matter I wish to raise concerns an online issue affecting children called the Momo challenge. This is when children are on social media outlets and some sort of virus or worm called the Momo challenge appears and asks them to carry out various dangerous tasks, including self-harm. The Garda has appealed for children and vulnerable people online to be supervised. I once again call on the Government to establish an office of digital safety commissioner. A digital safety commissioner could be ahead of the curve in educating parents and children in order that these phenomena - I do not know whether one would call them online viruses - do not affect children and that our children are protected and kept safe while online and parents are educated.

The third matter I wish to raise concerns a report on the rezoning of industrial estates in Dublin that was commissioned by Dublin City Council. The proposed sites are, on the north side, Oscar Traynor Road and the Malahide Road and, in my own constituency, Kylemore Road, Park West and Inchicore Railway Works. This is a great idea and is to be welcomed. Many of these industrial estates are served by the Luas and there are great transport links. It is time the Government ensured an increased supply of housing. This is one measure which I have called for in recent years, and I am glad to see it being given some very serious thought by the council.

The Momo issue to which my colleague has just referred relates to children's access to digital technology. The Leader will recall that I introduced a Bill here some time ago attempting to limit children's access to digital technology, particularly in school, without permission. We must step up to the plate here and parents must start taking responsibility. When one hands a mobile telephone device or a digital device to one's child in an unsupervised capacity, one is handing them a lethal weapon. If they do not have access to this mobile technology, they will not be subjected to Momo or anything similar. The research from the school in Kerry that banned mobile phones shows just how children have responded. They have started to make friends and to engage with one another on a different level. There would not be any Momos if we properly controlled access to phones, but Government alone cannot do this. Parents must take responsibility for what they give their children and for the consequences thereof. The Leader will recall that when I first dealt with this issue I mentioned in my contribution the suicide of two twins, 13 year old girls, as a result of being subjected to cyberbullying.

I compliment the Defence Forces on the support they have provided to the families of those members serving in Mali at present. As we know, things have got fairly hot in Mali, and it is excellent the way the Chief of Staff and his press officers have ensured that families are kept up to date and reassured that their loved ones are safe and well.

Finally, I refer to the issue of labour law. We were talking about bullying in the workplace and the like. The Labour Relations Commission was designed to allow people to go to it without legal representation but, alas and alack, most people finish up facing a barrister or two across the table or possibly a solicitor, a barrister and a number of HR experts, unless people can bring in legal advice.

Most workers cannot afford legal advice, so the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, must be empowered to provide the advice they need. Either that or we ban legal representation. Personally, I would prefer the latter and let people go in mano a mano to fight their cases. If the employer is going to bring in legal big guns, the employee has to be in the same position. At his leisure, could the Leader arrange for a debate on this matter with the Minister responsible for employment?

I welcome the approval of Translarna, which the Cathaoirleach will know I have often discussed in the House in connection with Lewis Harte-Walsh and other boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, DMD. Over the weekend, Lewis's mum, Ann Marie, described it as like winning the lottery, only better. That is good for Lewis and those other boys, but there should not be a lottery situation.

The fight continues for Spinraza for children with spinal muscular atrophy. The arguments continue based on price alone. I plead with the HSE, Biogen and the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Harris, to concentrate negotiations over the next 30 days and find a solution that allows Spinraza to be approved. These children and their families have been dragged through a long bureaucratic nightmare of "will it or won't it be approved". That has to stop. The inhumanity of withholding this drug is devastating as parents watch their children literally shutting down. The State has been generous to these pharmaceutical companies and the pharmaceutical industry. It is now time for them to return some of that generosity earnestly and urgently.

For the Government's part, it is unthinkable that these children would be sacrificed at the altar of the overrun at the national children's hospital.

That is beneath the Senator.

No. We are really talking about-----

Has the Leader met any of these children?

I have. I am a former Chair of the health committee.

Allow Senator Conway-Walsh to continue. The Leader will have ample time to respond. The Senator should not get distracted.

I will not be distracted by the Leader. The children's families are wondering. Money can be found for so many different things, so why must they have to watch their children shut down in this manner? There will be another opportunity to meet these families on Thursday when they come to protest outside Leinster House. I urge everyone, including parents with perfectly healthy children, to come along and support them in their fight for Spinraza.

I wish to refer to last night's "Claire Byrne Live" special on Clodagh Hawe and her sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan, who were killed by her husband and their father, Alan Hawe, in August 2016. I am certain that everyone across the House supports the call for an inquiry that will tell her family the truth. For me, it was the ultimate manifestation of the power and control that prevail in domestic violence situations. I call again for the House to support an all-island strategy on domestic violence. We must work together across the island to make homes safer for women, children and men. I welcome the legislation that was enacted late last year, but we need to do much more.

I bring the House's attention to a report that was the subject of a Private Members' motion in the Dáil last Thursday, entitled "Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities". It is a fine piece of work that took the committee some time last year under the Chairmanship of Deputy O'Dowd. The committee reported in November. The motion was unanimously agreed by the Lower House. In fairness, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has agreed to appear before that committee every six months.

He will do so on 22 April this year to respond to the 16 recommendations. I am pleased this is happening. During the debate last Thursday, a young lady, Victoria Matthews, was mentioned by a Deputy. She has written to me as follows:

Dear Senator Dolan,

I am writing to you in regard to the Report above that is to be discussed in the Dáil tomorrow. I am a wheelchair user from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. I have applied to do a degree in Applied Sports with Business in Sligo IT. Bus Éireann customer service has told Sligo IT that it has no accessibility on the route between Ballyshannon and Sligo.

I hope you can speak on my behalf on this matter. I survive on disability allowance and do not have a car. I rely on the good will of family members to take me shopping, to the doctors, to physiotherapy etc., as do lots of other people in my situation.

Under the Equality Acts 2000-2004, I should not be discriminated against, I should be able to use public transport to meet my needs, in this case I would like an accessible bus to be put on Route 480 Ballyshannon to Sligo.

I have started a petition to achieve this and am trying to highlight the need for accessible transport nationwide [Over 2,000 people have already signed it].

It is unfair that people with disabilities, where the route is accessible have to give 24-48 hour notice. ...

I hope that [you] will stand up for the people on this human rights issue.

I am hoping the Oireachtas will do so. This is about fairness and opportunity. Over the past two decades, we have invested heavily, and rightly so, in the education of young people with disabilities. They need to be able to move on. This is an example of an issue that is preventing them doing so.

On the same issue, the secretary general of the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, Mr. Dermot O'Leary, made the following public statement last week:

The NBRU will continue to campaign for appropriate funding for public transport. We will continue to advocate for our transport service to remain in public ownership. We will also turn our attention away from the spotlight of what may appear to some to be constantly speaking about transport disruption to concentrate our energies and focus and work on issues around the harsh coal face of industrial strife, working with all organisations, including those from across the political spectrum, to ensure that the most vulnerable amongst us, those with disabilities, will have equal access to public transport. This particular issue, for us at least, holds as much significance as striving to achieve improvements for our members.

In that spirit, I would hope that our public services and the Oireachtas would not be found wanting in ensuring that accessibility of public transport is moved on speedily for people with disabilities.

I ask the Leader to keep us apprised of progress in the other House of the omnibus Brexit legislation, as I know he will do. I understand it will come before the Seanad on 11 March. It is legislation that we all hope will not be necessary but which nonetheless is essential as a contingency. I do not think there will be an obstacle to getting it through in a timely fashion, given its urgency, even though we do need to scrutinise properly and so forth. I welcome that there are some positive signs in Britain in the last 24 hours, notably the Labour Party move towards embracing the idea of a second referendum. I hope we will see a stronger momentum towards that end in very early course.

I pay tribute to Ellen Coyne and Katie O'Neill, journalists with The Times, Ireland edition, for their exposé last week of the tactics of an American group who it seems are seeking to recruit Irish people to blockade and obstruct access to clinics and medical services for women seeking abortion in line with legislation here, as women are now entitled to do. It was a very worrying exposé of the deeply intimidatory and aggressive tactics being used by certain groups.

In calling for a debate on the need for exclusion zones I want to raise a particular concern about reports that the Mansion House has apparently been used as a venue for a fundraiser for a group associated with some of these American groups. I am really concerned that this is the case and hope we will hear some explanation or receive some clarification on the matter. Will the Leader organise a debate on the need for exclusion zones and how best legislators can respond to the difficulties women with crisis pregnancies may be facing in accessing medical services? This is a critical matter, given how recently the legislation was passed by this House and in the light of the Minister for Health's promise that legislation on exclusion zones would be introduced as a matter of urgency early in the new year. In the Government's legislative programme I see that such legislation is not on the priority list for this session. Will the Leader see what progress can be made in that regard?

I commend our colleague Senator Reilly on the great work he has done to ensure charging points for electric cars have been put in place on the Leinster House campus. This positive environmental move will encourage people to drive electric cars. For many years I have been pressing for decent bicycle parking facilities on the Leinster House campus. I have to say I have met very little enthusiasm and support from those involved in the management of Leinster House, which is really unfortunate. I will be pressing the matter further because Senator Reilly has shown us how it can be done. We need to see adequate bicycle parking facilities being provided. We also need to see shelters over the bicycle parking facilities that are available and properly allocated bicycle spaces. When I cycled in today, as I always do, I saw myriad cars parked on the lawn on the Merrion Square side of Leinster House. It was supposed to be the case that we would not see that happen again.

There was no place else to park.

We need to visibly do a lot more to encourage people to use other forms of transport, particularly bicycles, in getting to Leinster House.

It is a long way from Roscommon on a bike.

It is made difficult for people to cycle here. There are no proper bicycle parking facilities close to the entrances to the building. I will certainly be raising this issue again. I have been raising it for many years and I am getting very fed up at the lack of progress and the apparent lack of commitment to support those who choose to cycle to Leinster House.

The Senator should write to the commission on that one.

I have done so.

I have not seen it on the agenda.

Nothing has happened.

The Senator should have a word with Senator Reilly.

I welcome the opportunity Senator Ardagh has given me to highlight a Bill I am introducing in the Seanad next week. The proposed Civil Liability (Capping of General Damages) Bill 2019 will provide for the imposition of a cap on the level of awards which may be made in respect of a claim for general damages arising from personal injuries, for the confirmation by each House of the Oireachtas of draft regulations, for the legislation to be reviewed after its enactment and for related matters. I am delighted that Senators will have an opportunity to support the Bill when it is introduced next week-----

The Government has its own Bill.

-----and debated on Second Stage the following week. I would be delighted to hear something about it.

On a point of order, I am seeking to have a Government Bill taken on Committee Stage.

Please, Senator; let Senator Lawlor continue. I am sure he will be able to amplify his concerns when he introduces the Bill next week.

I thank the Cathaoirleach.

I really want to talk about work permits, a review of which was carried out last year. The changes made were welcomed by the hospitality and agriculture sectors. Almost one year has passed since they were introduced. The Leader might call on the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, to come before the Seanad in order that we can review the regulations that were changed last year with a view to updating them. There are certain difficulties, particularly in the hospitality sector. People are trying to get different types of chef into the country to provide services here. They are not being trained or facilitated here in this country. Such a debate might be possible.

Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to come to the Seanad as soon as possible to debate a new pilot scheme? The closing date for the receipt of applications under the beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme for farmers with a single suckler cow, known as BEEP, was last Friday, 22 February. Given that it had opened on 4 February, it is a very restricted pilot scheme. A farmer has to weigh his or her single suckler cow and calf.

There is a grant of €40 per cow, less the cost of hiring the scales, not to mention getting the cow onto them. Cows are large animals, weighing between 600 and 800 kilos, and weighing them is very difficult and quite dangerous from a health and safety point of view. Under the scheme, it is not very rewarding. A significant number of farmers are saying the scheme is bull and that they are going to bin it because it does not reflect the crisis faced by suckler cow farmers in terms of the cost of production. Fianna Fáil has proposed a €200 per animal single suckler cow payment under a scheme with no red tape. The Government will have to respond on the issue because every time Fine Gael is in power, it introduces really elaborate schemes which ensure farmers do not receive a fair return. It can be proved that the best Ministers and agricultural schemes have been introduced by the Fianna Fáil Party-----

What about Alan Dukes?

-----because we do not represent the big ranchers down south and elsewhere. Small farmers in the west and the north west are at a major disadvantage.

Fianna Fáil must have had a bad weekend.

The scheme looks to be a disaster. From a health and safety point of view, we cannot ask farmers who are living alone to try to get their big cows onto scales to weigh them for less than €40. What is the benefit? There is no benefit whatsoever. Somebody in the Department came up with this harebrained scheme to try to ensure only a limited number of farmers would be able to avail of it at a time of crisis. Farmers in the United Kingdom with a single suckler cow are getting a higher price than Irish farmers. As they are getting approximately €180 more, we need a €200 suckler cow payment under a scheme with no red tape. I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to discuss the issue.

There has been a lot of talk recently about housing and I am looking forward to the launch of a report tomorrow on housing for the elderly, in particular. There has been a lot of talk about new retirement villages, a term I do not particularly like, but we will have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens at the launch of the report by the Minister. We must focus on health care assistants who do the serious, real work in nursing homes of washing, turning, cleaning and feeding our elders. Why are their skills not included on the critical skills list? Nobody is listening to me.

We are listening.

I do not see it. I do not mind if Members are listening to me or not, but if they are on their phones, writing letters and so on, they are not necessarily listening to anybody.

(Interruptions).

I was not referring to Senator Lawlor, in particular.

(Interruptions).

Let us get back to the issue at hand.

It is very serious. We are talking about retirement villages, nursing homes, care packages and care in the home, but we are not talking about the quality and quantity of those who do the caring. We are living in Utopia in building rockets with nowhere to land them. My point is carers are not deemed to have "critical" skills such that they cannot apply to come here from non-EU countries. This is also problematic when it comes to retaining healthcare assistants. Who is going to staff all of the new nursing and retirement homes? Are we engaged in workforce planning, given the ageing demographic? I would like the Minister to come to the House to discuss the critical skills list. It has been expanded to include agrifood workers, that is, those in the meat industry who work in meat and boning halls, but it has not been expanded to include the carers of elderly persons in nursing homes. Their skills are not considered to be "critical", which means that it is very difficult for non-EU health care assistants to come and stay here. I ask the Minister to come to the House to outline his plans for retirement villages and nursing homes, given the ageing demographic, and the workforce planning that has been engaged in to date, with particular reference to the skills of healthcare assistants.

We all forget about them. They do the serious and the real work every day in these organisations. They are paid very little and their work does not come under the heading of critical skills ability. Minding an elderly person all day, every day is a role demanding critical skills. They might not be medical or nursing skills as it is a different kind of care. Perhaps the Minister will come in and outline his plans for that.

I thank Senator Bacik for her kind words. I regret to say that the single charger unit in the Oireachtas has not been working since last Thursday but people are working on it. I support her call for specified spaces for people who cycle to work.

Let me address an issue we raised in the House a number of weeks ago, and for which we had support across the House, namely, a radical housing plan for elderly citizens. I welcome the fact the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, will launch a report tomorrow, where his work will come to light. Most Members will have received a document from Alone in which it called for investment in a range of housing options for older people, including dispersed housing, shared housing in the community, dedicated sheltered housing, nursing homes, etc. This is not about putting people out of their homes but rather about giving people choice. I informed the House some weeks ago that 50 people came together in Skerries to try to develop a co-operative so that it could build houses and people could live together in a community. They need support and a template on how to do this because they are not quite sure how to go about it. What we called for in that motion, which the House supported, was a new co-operative model which would have a similar type of charitable status to approved housing bodies, so that the co-operative would not have to pay levies which would make it less expensive for it to build these houses. It is proposed to have a capital fund of 1% to 2% finance to build elderly housing. We could then think about a possible reduction in local property tax. Sites should be reserved for housing for the elderly in all our towns and villages, so that people can stay in the communities in which they have lived all their lives and have made such a commitment and given such service to and that they can continue to enjoy the friendships they have built up. We have often acknowledged that what is more important for mental health in old age is a good circle of friends rather than family. I commend the Minister of State on tomorrow's report.

I wish to raise awareness of the mental health legislation and the revised heads of Bills. On Thursday last, the Mental Health Commission said it would intervene robustly in any areas or approved centres that are not protecting patients' human rights and operating a substandard service. Fines of €5,000 were imposed after the Mental Health Commission took the first prosecution of its kind against the HSE under the Mental Health Act for failures at the psychiatric unit in Kilkenny.

Senator Reilly will remember that for more than a decade St. Ita's Hospital, Portrane, was found to be highly unsuitable but nothing was done about it. The mental health inspector has been inspecting approved centres since the early 2000s and has made recommendations but this is the first time the Mental Health Commission prosecuted a psychiatric unit. Perhaps it will now prosecute the HSE for CAMHS in Wexford, where clinicians have to conduct interviews on the care of children in corridors. This is to the detriment of the services being offered.

If the Leader could ask the Minister to come to the House to update us on the revised heads of the mental health (amendment) Bill, which has regard to human rights and the provision of proper modern services for patients and which has been in his hands for more than three years, it would be helpful.

I raise an issue about which I have become increasingly concerned. In recent weeks a great many reports of State authorities needlessly cutting down trees have come in from right across the country. I am amazed at the number of councillors and members of the public who are speaking out and contacting us. It seems to be happening all at the one time, which is a little bit strange. My concern is that it is just easier for local authorities to cut down the trees while they are still budding rather than dealing with any issues which might arise when they are in full bloom, such as cleaning up debris, access to light, and so on. If these decisions are related to the weather it might explain why this seems to be happening all at once. I do not know why it is happening, but I do know that there are some blossoming trees on my road which are starting to bud now. I sit at my window and I look out at the robins and other birds. I would be devastated if the authorities came along and just cut down a clatter of trees for no reason other than that they are budding a bit early and the authorities do not want to clean up the leaves.

Would it be possible for the Government to address why State authorities are doing to this now and to this extent? Just last week another bunch of trees was cut down in Merrion Square, apparently to address problems with anti-social behaviour. In reality, this means people sleeping rough. The solution cannot be to simply cut down the little shelter available to these people, which also has a terrible environmental cost. We have the lowest level of forest coverage in the EU and the second lowest level on the entire European continent. In this context, surely we should not be seeing State authorities cutting down trees to such an extent. It is all over social media. We are destroying our natural habitat and people all over the country are deeply concerned about it. People are rethinking how we protect our environment and the Government really needs to listen.

This recent spate of cutting highlights a flaw in our current system. We need a national biodiversity strategy which clearly outlines the ecological and social value of these trees. My colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, will be raising this issue as a Commencement matter later in the week. I would really appreciate it if the Minister, Deputy Madigan, would come to the House and address this issue in detail with the Senator and with us all.

First, I would like to support Senator Black. I have received considerable correspondence on this matter of tree-cutting. We had very vigorous debate about this very problem on two separate occasions during consideration of the Heritage Bill, because that Bill was introduced twice. People in the countryside have been noticing this and writing to various Members of the House.

I very much welcome moves by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, to support, in certain circumstances, the holding of a second referendum. I have been hoping that he would take this step for some time and I am very glad that he has done so. The circumstances to which I referred are very likely to arise, so it looks more and more the case that we will have a second referendum. I sincerely hope the voting public in Britain will have learnt a bit of sense, will have listened to the arguments, and will understand the catastrophe facing their country and in which they are involving other European countries. I hope they will have sense and will vote to stay in, even though Britain will have a much reduced status as a result of this farting around.

I speak about the horrific murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan. Last night's documentary on "Claire Byrne Live" was a great public service.

RTÉ should be proud of it. It gave a voice to Clodagh, her sons and the Hawe family that had been missing for a long time since their deaths in August 2016. Mary and Jacqueline, Clodagh's mother and sister, gave a great account of her and her three children. It made the brutal description of their murders even more harrowing. They also painted a picture of control and abuse within the family home. Control and abuse are often not apparent when they do not involve physical violence. Mary and Jacqueline were clear that until the night of the murders, there had been no physical violence within the home, but there was within it Alan Hawe who controlled Clodagh and the boys with a silent and menacing presence in their lives. It is interesting to note that Clodagh met Alan Hawe when she was just 17 years old in college. They married two and a half years later and there were signs from the beginning that it was a controlling relationship. The Women's Aid campaign under way to help young women to spot the signs of controlling and abusive relationships early in relationships is very important in this context.

Alan Hawe left a letter that he had written after murdering Clodagh and before going upstairs to murder the boys who were asleep. He said in the letter that he was too important for his family to live without him and that he was going to be exposed for something awful that had occurred. We believe it was in his workplace, but the family do not have further details in that regard. It is clear that they want basic information. They want to know what happened and when. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Education and Skills must meet Mary and Jacqueline to discuss the matter with them. There must be an independent inquiry into the deaths. It is only by examining cases such as this that we will be able to prevent similar cases from happening in the future.

Often abuse is ignored by women because they do not have alternative accommodation. We must examine the provision of shelters for women and children who need to leave abusive relationships because sometimes the signs of abuse are overlooked until something catastrophic happens when it is too late. Ireland started to collect data just over 20 years ago for the numbers of women killed by men. An average of ten are killed every year and often they are killed in their home by a man with whom they have been or are in a relationship. In that period 16 children died alongside their mothers. This is a live issue and we should have an independent inquiry. We must also receive some information on the domestic homicide review that was promised after the murders. Perhaps the Leader might update us on the issue.

The Civil Liability (Amendment) (Prevention of Benefits from Homicide) Bill introduced by Deputy O'Callaghan in the Dáil should be pressed forward by the Government. It was passed on Second Stage, but it has gone to the place where all such Bills go to die. The debate on it should be resumed. After Alan Hawe had murdered his family, he went online and transferred money from joint accounts into his own account. That has consequences for how the estate will be distributed. Out of respect for Clodagh and her boys, we should act on this issue, not just wring our hands.

I was in the Mansion House this morning where the Children's Rights Alliance announced the report card on the Government's progress in implementing the programme for Government. The State was commended on making progress in dealing with childcare and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, rights, but it received the lowest grade possible in dealing with child homelessness. It struggled in dealing with children's mental health services and the rights of Traveller and Roma children. The Children's Rights Alliance noted the increase in the number of children in emergency accommodation from 1,600 in 2015 to almost 4,000 today.

It called on Government to declare a state of emergency, for local authorities and State bodies to provide for adequate long-term social housing and to take children out of emergency accommodation. It noted the extremely long waiting list in the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and the delays in implementing A Vision for Change. It called on Government to ensure that all children had access to mental health services in a timely manner and to carry out a progress report on A Vision for Change.

A couple of weeks ago I questioned the local authorities' underspend on Traveller-specific accommodation. The impact on children was noted in the report. We also urgently need to see the publication of the report by the Traveller accommodation expert group.

I have mentioned several issues concerning children. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has probably set the standard for engaging with sectors and outreach. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Zappone, would be happy to come into the House to discuss some of the failures in Government but also the improvements that have been made.

The sixth anniversary of the establishment of the education and training boards, ETBs, will fall on 1 July next. The then Minister, Ruairí Quinn, put an end to the vocational education college, VEC, system and he amalgamated the 33 VECS into 16 ETBs. My colleague, Senator Wilson, is very knowledgeable about this and he has raised it. One of the main reasons the then Minister gave for the amalgamation was the serious capital savings which he estimated at €2 million per year. I would like if the Minister for Education and Skills could come in and update us on those finances. I am not expecting any great savings because I have been observing how the ETBs have set up lots of sub-committees and been very active on a variety of fronts. I am not saying they are not giving value for money but Members would like to know if savings have been effected.

We are in the run-in to the great Cheltenham national hunt racing festival which, as the Cathaoirleach knows well, is the showpiece and flagship for national hunt racing in these islands and, in particular, here in our country where it is such an important part of the fabric of life and indeed the economy. Not everybody can afford to go to Cheltenham or Ascot or any of these places but there is a huge following for the racing game and people follow it by watching it on television.

Prior to this year viewers had a very real choice, they could pay onto their Sky package for "At the Races", channel 415, or "Racing UK", channel 426, I think. However, Horse Racing Ireland in its wisdom decided to give and grant the entire franchise for the televising of Irish racing to "Racing UK" which has now been transmogrified into "Racing TV" so there is no choice. If a person wants to join it costs €360 per annum on the Sky package and I have a feeling it will start going up because there is no competition there but that is not really my worry. My real worry is whether we will get enough racing on television any more. On any given Saturday there will be four, five, six and more race meetings in England, Scotland or Wales and there will probably be one or two here in Ireland. These races will overlap. The broadcaster is splitting the screen and there will be two races going on------

The Senator's finishing post is clearly in view.

I will get there by a short head. Although a person might have an interest in one race and be watching it, there is no commentary on the split screen. Worse than that, the channel is omitting other races. It cannot just literally show the racing. Which racing is going to lose out, I ask the Cathaoirleach and the Leader? Will it be the UK races, some of which are worth only £2,000 in prize money, or will it be the valuable Irish races many of which are worth far more?

There was a classic example last week of a very important bumper. Senator Norris is looking at me wondering what a bumper is.

I know what a bumper is.

Good man. It is the last race of the day.

I may not be horsey myself but I come from a horsey family.

It is a race of great interest to the punter. They did not show it because there was some Mickey Mouse race on over in Uttoxeter or somewhere. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be asked to come in here to assure the Irish viewers that there will be fair play for them. They should be able to watch racing without being charged an arm and a leg and should be assured that the races will be seen live, not repeated, reviewed or recorded.

It might be an appropriate matter for a Commencement debate. I invite the Leader to respond.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan neglected to give us a tip for Cheltenham. He might do that on the Order of Business in the coming weeks.

The Leader might be safer without it.

I commend the 15 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the Judicial Council Bill. I have sought an update on the status of the Bill. It would be premature to divide the House next week on a Bill that may not be complete for a variety of reasons. I will endeavour to get information for the Senator. I would also say to her that in the Department of Justice and Equality, the focus has been on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which is taking up a lot of the officials' time.

It is being given careful scrutiny.

The Senator is back again this week for more of it.

I am. I will be coming from my sick bed.

The Senator might miss some of the start of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

Senator Ardagh has highlighted an important Bill. Senator Lawlor also referenced the issue of insurance costs and premiums. The making of awards by the Judiciary has been addressed by the Minister. I will endeavour to have information for the Senator by next week and I hope she will not divide the House on the matter.

Senators Ardagh and Craughwell raised the Momo challenge. We must all join with the HSE, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and the International Association for Suicide Prevention. These groups have prepared very important and reflective responses to the challenge, which is having a very negative impact on young people's lives. Through the medium of Oireachtas TV, I appeal to parents, teachers, mental health professionals and young people who are watching and listening. We must be aware of the need to talk with adolescents and children who have heard about or are engaged in any aspect of the challenge. We must appeal to them to express their feelings in response to this game. For young people who have engaged in self-harming behaviours or who have plans, for whatever reason, to engage in behaviour that is not positive, there needs to be a reaching out. I ask all Members to be aware of the impact of this game. I alert them to the email we have received regarding its potential impacts. We must all ensure that those who are most vulnerable are looked after and supported.

I have not got an answer for Senator Ardagh on the issue of the Dublin industrial estates. Perhaps she might put down a Commencement matter. Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of the Defence Forces and we will have a debate on the Defence Forces in due course. I agree with him that there is a need for an address to be made in respect of the payment of fees for those who cannot afford them in labour relations disputes.

Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of Translarna. We all welcome its approval. She also referred to Spinraza. It is important that we use language wisely. Nobody is sacrificing anybody on any altar. All of us want to ensure that those who are in need of medical intervention and care receive it. I am a former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and, on World Rare Diseases Day, that committee introduced hearings on rare diseases.

I ask people to listen to the comments made by Dr. Michael Barry in recent days. Pharmaceutical companies should reflect upon the charges and costs they ask us to pay for drugs.

Hear, hear. Exactly.

We all want to ensure that the ongoing negotiations are successful. As Dr. Barry said, we have not had a final "No". We are very much aware of the frustration, hurt and anger being experienced by a very small group of people and their families. We value the young people who require this drug and we support and understand their position. I ask the pharmaceutical companies to reflect upon the costs they ask the State to pay for the drug. I am happy to have the debate with the Minister in due course.

Senator Dolan raised the issue of disability and public transport. We will have a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in due course.

Senator Bacik raised the issue of exclusion zones. I am happy to have the Minister to the House to address the matter and have a debate around the issue. It is important to acknowledge the right to protest and the right to assembly, but it is also important to understand that, in this case, women are going to maternity hospitals or doctors' surgeries to seek medical intervention. They should be treated with respect and afforded privacy, not subjected to harassment by anybody over their medical care or needs.

I share Senator Bacik's view on the need for adequate bicycle parking at Leinster House. It should be made easier for those people who cycle to and from Leinster House to park their bikes in a manner that befits the choice they have made.

I commend our colleague, Senator Reilly, on raising the issue of electric car charging points, notwithstanding the difficulties they are now encountering.

The Brexit legislation is passing through the Lower House, and it is envisaged that it will be in this House on 11 March. I will keep Members apprised of the position in due course.

Senator Lawlor raised the issue of changes to work permits. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter. I am sure we all agree that the issue of work permits is one that needs to be addressed. We are very much aware of the important role those from abroad play in filling positions in our hospitality sector in particular.

Senator Leyden continues to amuse me. I enjoy his contributions every day, and today is no exception.

The Leader is very charming.

It is disappointing that a learned Member, an experienced Member of the House, did not read the Budget Statement and subsequent press release from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, in which he spoke about the issues the Senator raised. The Minister highlighted the closing date for the scheme in October. It was well flagged. The Senator probably knows better than I do that the February closing date allows for the optimum weighing time of calves and ensures prompt payment to farmers, which I assume is why he raised the matter in the first place. If we did not do that, the Senator would be criticising the delay in payment.

The leader should try to get a big cow onto a scale sometime.

I did that on many occasions in my youth and in my not so youthful days because my grandparents and my uncle were farmers; I spent most of my summers farming. I actually learned to drive on a Massey Ferguson 20.

There was no beef scheme then.

Those were the days before roll bars.

The Leader was a small farmer.

We all acknowledge that 2018 was a very difficult year for our farming community, and the Minister is very committed to and has demonstrated his support for the beef sector, which is a pivotal part of our farming community. We have put in place-----

The Leader means to say "beef farmers".

-----a number of tailored schemes. As Senator Leyden knows, the Fine Gael Party has a history of great Ministers for agriculture, including the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the late Mark Clinton, to name but two.

The Leader should not forget James Dillon.

I am not surprised the Senator has made the argument about small and big farmers. It is what Fianna Fáil does. It talks the game.

No. We walk the walk.

We have seen €300 million put in place to support the sector. The Senator spoke about the €20 million pilot scheme, €23 million for the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and a heap of other schemes that are benefitting the farming community. It is important to recognise that the community has had a difficult year and that is why the Minister is engaging with the Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, in the reform of the CAP to ensure that all farmers, not just those mentioned by the Senator, are understood and represented. I will be happy to have the debate in due course. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is very much supportive of the suckler sector. The national farm survey showed that farmers were given €500 per suckler cow and the point should be reinforced that supports have been put in place.

Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made a very important point about an issue we need to address as a society and as a country, namely, the ongoing housing options for our ageing population and the types of care provided for them, whether it is in their homes, in community settings or resulting from downsizing. Access to care is multifaceted and multisectoral and we need to have a strong debate on this issue. The Senator produced a very fine report on housing choices and this must be just the beginning of our efforts. In tandem with the report, which is being launched tomorrow, the focal point must be on housing choices. If we learn nothing else from the recession about how we can deliver various types of housing, it should be that those who choose to downsize or to have a different housing model should be able to have that in a manner that allows them access to religious services, shopping facilities, the post office, banking, the hairdresser and such things.

In the village of Knocknagree, there are three families collecting child benefit at the post office. Forty years ago, every family in the village would have done so. We must ensure that we plan for that in our model of housing choice. We cannot do this on a piecemeal basis and must do it in a way that recognises that there are many different needs and that people living in the community should not be displaced nor discommoded. National planning policy must be able to articulate the view that housing choices for older people must be embraced in a real way. Government will argue that there are different forms of purpose-built housing and many different units are available. There are housing adaptation grants and housing supports but we must meet the projected changes in our population, which can only be done by having this conversation to lead us to the policy. In tandem with this issue is the choice of care and the way it is given and I would be happy for a debate in this House on the matter. Senator Reilly also commented on this.

Senator Devine raised the issue of mental health and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House on the matter. I have not seen the report on tree-felling referred to by Senator Black. Perhaps a Commencement matter would be a more judicious way of getting an answer to her question. Senator Norris raised the issue of Brexit but I missed his other point.

It was in support of Senator Black's point about trees.

Senator Bacik also spoke about Brexit. This is a very important two weeks and I hope common sense will prevail. If an extension is needed, I hope it will be given to the UK Government but I also welcome the 11th-hour conversion of the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to the need for a second referendum. It has come a bit late in the game and he has showed a lack of leadership around Brexit, though I do not want to stray into British politics.

He has been disappointing.

Yes, he definitely has been disappointing.

All of us in this House stand with the Government and our European partners to ensure we get a deal, that the backstop is recognised as it has been up to now, and that there will not be a hard Brexit.

All of us who have read about and who saw the television programme last night, which I did not see, on the horrific killing of Clodagh Hawe and her three beautiful sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan, can only but be appalled and concerned about what happened, and can recognise there is a need to ensure that the pain, anger and disbelief of this family and other families can be channelled into Government and agencies of the State working together to ensure we do not have repeat episodes of what was an extraordinary, horrific crime. All of us extend our sympathies and heartfelt thoughts to the families. As we all recognise, a review is being carried out by the Garda. The Garda is learning. Changes have been made in the way in which training in dealing with domestic violence is carried out in An Garda Síochána. The new sixth divisional protective service units are going live across the six Garda divisions in January with different models of training. I hope we will see the legislation that is needed being brought to fruition.

I am not sure where we are at with Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill, which seeks to amend the Succession Act in terms of inheriting assets, as Senator Clifford Lee mentioned. All of us recognise that changes need to be made to ensure that it cannot be allowed that people would benefit from what happened in this case. We extend our deepest sympathy to, and our thoughts are with, the family of the victims of this heinous crime.

Senator Warfield raised the issue of the Children's Rights Alliance report. I do not have the answers, as I did not read the report and I have not seen the report card. However, I would be happy to make time available to the House in the coming weeks to discuss the matter.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the education and training boards. It is hard to believe it is the sixth anniversary of their establishment. On this occasion, with the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, I would like to commend the work of Mr. Ted Owens, the former chief executive of Cork Education and Training Board, who has now retired, and to thank him for his tremendous service to the city and county of Cork over many years as an educationalist and in latter years as the chief executive of Cork Education and Training Board. I would happy to arrange for the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to come to the House to discuss this matter.

I thoroughly agree with the Senator regarding the coverage of racing on our television screens. His points were very well made. If we were to reflect upon what has happened, all of us would be disappointed at the way in which racing coverage has gone. I certainly lament the lack of, or zero, coverage of racing on Channel 4, the reduced coverage on RTÉ, the fact there is no coverage on BBC and that we are moving towards a sort of pay per view model, which all of us recognise does not meet the needs of those of us who are racing enthusiasts. I might not be as knowledgeable about racing as the Senator but I am certainly interested in it. It reflects poorly that people who look forward every day to watching racing coverage on television have been discommoded or now have to pay an excessive amount. I do not have Sky Sports because I do not feel I can justify paying for it when I am never home but I know other Members have made choices - people I know who watch racing coverage and who are paying inordinate amounts to do so. I would be happy to arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss this matter which is an important one.

We have put certain sporting events on a list. It is equally important that we do the same with racing. Cheltenham is one of the high points on the racing calendar. Equally, as the Senator said, and it is particularly true, if we have a very good race meeting in Ireland, is coverage of it lost to a UK meeting? I do not want to be disrespectful to our colleagues across the water but some of the racing there is definitely not as good as ours. The Senator's point is well made. I will arrange for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 4.40 p.m. and resumed at 4.45 p.m.