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 to adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements on the future of Europe and the value of European Union membership to Ireland to be taken at 7 p.m. and to conclude at 8.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate.

With the indulgence of the Leas-Chathaiorleach, either at the beginning or the end of the Order of Business, I ask, on my behalf and on that the Government, for sympathies to be sent to the family of iar Seanadóir Noel Mulcahy, a Taoiseach's nominee to the Seanad who passed away over the weekend.

The Fianna Fáil group and I would like to express our sympathy to the family of the former Senator, Noel Mulcahy.

I wish to refer to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, for which there is a fund of €200 million.

More than 1,600 people have been approved for the home loan scheme so far and 575 home loans with a total value of €107 million have been drawn down. This leaves just over €90 million in the fund. More than 1,000 people who have been given loan approval have not yet drawn down these moneys. The proportion of approved applicants who draw down the loans appears to be higher than 50%. Using basic mathematics, it seems there will not be enough money in the fund for those who would like to draw down the loans. These are people on the margins who are vulnerable and are relying on the Rebuilding Ireland home loans.

There are many questions that we must ask. I note during Leaders' Questions today, my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, put many questions to the Taoiseach and was unable to get clarification. For instance, what exactly is the Central Bank's view on the home loans? The Minister, in December, stated he would provide another fund. Today, the Taoiseach was unable to give my party any answers as to whether that will be the case and indicated he would ask more questions. Was this fund a mistake? Is it reckless lending on the part of the Government? What is the current status of the fund? Has the Minister directed that no more loans are to be approved? The Minister has described the fund as a success. If it is the case that the fund has been closed and no more approvals will be made, this is a loud noise that we are hearing over and over again. It is important to have a debate on the Rebuilding Ireland loan scheme. We need facts because people are relying on these loans and if the shutters are coming down, they need to know what their options are.

A report from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on struggling families titled, Working, Parenting and Struggling?, has found that one in 11 working lone parents was living below the poverty line in 2012 and that number had jumped to one in five by 2017. It is clear we are not doing enough for working parents. Unfortunately, Dublin South Central has one of the highest rates of lone parents, many of whom are women. The Government needs to do much more to support women who are lone parents to ensure resources are available to them and to allow them to go back to work and support their children and ensure their children are not living in abject poverty and enjoy equality of opportunity, as other children do.

The use of electric motorised scooters is an issue that has been in the press. We see these scooters in cycle lanes. Clarity is needed on whether the Garda should enforce road safety laws or whether this is in the remit of Dublin City Council. We need clarification on whether these motorised scooters should be insured. We need a short debate in this House on the issue. I drive every day and these scooters seem to be on the increase. They are dangerous and it would be easy to hit them because they are travelling faster than bicycles. I would like a debate in the House on motorised scooters.

If you ask me, they are a bit of a scourge.

I want to raise a few matters, all of which are related to one central theme, namely, the business of this House. I was very disappointed to have reported to me - I do not tweet or receive tweets - that the Minister for Justice and Equality had stated that the conduct of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 in the Seanad underlined the urgent need for root and branch Seanad reform or a second referendum. I was disappointed to hear that from the Minister, especially since he is conducting the Third Stage of this legislation in this House. On 27 February, the European Commission published a report on Ireland, which stated the following:

The proposed composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which - according to the amended proposal - would comprise only five judges out of 17 (including a lay chairperson 'accountable to the Oireachtas') would not be in line with European standards (Council of Europe, 2010) and with the recommendation of the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (Group of States against Corruption, 2018) which require that an independent and competent authority drawn in substantial part from the judiciary be authorised to make recommendations or express opinions which the relevant appointing authority follows in practice.

Second, it stated:

As to efficiency, the Court of Appeal, set up in 2014, has a considerable backlog and appears to be under-resourced as regards the number of judges.

A draft Bill providing for an increase in their number has been approved by the government.

It complains that this has not been progressed.

With regard to the first one, this is, yet again, a condemnation of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill before this House. Yet again, the European Commission is warning us that what we are doing is in breach of the GRECO report and in breach of the Council of Europe recommendations, yet it is being persisted with. We have been told consistently in other places that, somehow, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill debate is holding up other legislation. That is false. It is not true that it is holding up any other legislation and if there is any other legislation the Leader wants to get through, I am sure the majority of Members of this House will accommodate him.

One of the Bills which is waiting to be dealt with in this House is the Judicial Council Bill, which was passed on Second Stage without division in this House, having been introduced here. It has been deliberately stalled by the Government and taken hostage because the Government wants the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill done first and the other second. I would point out to my friends in Sinn Féin in particular that they are anxious to have sentencing standards as part of the Judicial Council Bill and I believe the great majority of Members agree with them on that.

Therefore, let us get on with the additional judges Bill, which the European Commission has said is there, and let us get on with the Judicial Council Bill, which is also there, commands cross-party support in this House and is of particular interest to the Sinn Féin party, which is interested in sentencing guidelines. Let us do that collectively.

I propose that, instead of dealing with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, we deal with Committee Stage of the Judicial Council Bill. It is being deliberately held up. Its passage is being obstructed by the Government, which is saying we will not get to that unless we deal with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill first. Let us make time available for it.

Is the Senator proposing an amendment?

I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business. We on these benches will be proposing that repeatedly until such time as Sinn Féin, in particular, comes on board and gets the Bill it is interested in and its sentencing guidelines pushed through against-----

There they are, Senator Conway-Walsh - new coalition partners, Senator Boyhan and Senator McDowell.

-----pushed through against one Minister's glove puppet manipulation of the Government.

That coalition will go down well.

I am proposing such an amendment.

Thank you. I regret I must rule Senator McDowell's amendment out of order. Scheduling the Bill on Committee Stage without any effective notice would deprive Senators who have not tabled amendments of the opportunity to table amendments in time for the debate. I understand one Senator tabled a number of amendments some time ago which have not yet been circulated since Committee Stage has not been scheduled. There would not be time to allow for the preparation and circulation of those amendments to Senators for a debate today. I am sorry about that.

I accept the guidance of the Chair on that matter. I am serving notice that, at the next available opportunity, we are going to do this and we are going to continuously do this.

On a point of order, we gave notice last week that we would be amending the Order of Business to take the Judicial Council Bill on Committee Stage.

That does not arise at this stage. I have dealt with that proposal. The amendments can only be made on the day. I have ruled. I call Senator Rose Conway-Walsh.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul this morning published a report which finds that poverty doubled among working lone parents between 2012 and 2017. These are parents who have done everything by the book. They get up early in the morning, perhaps even earlier than the Taoiseach himself, yet they have been left behind. This Government is failing working single parents who are living in poverty. This is disgraceful not just because of the conditions in which lone parents now live, but because there are actions that need to be taken right now.

The activation measures taken during the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government were only going to deliver one result, and this is it. We said at the time that they would push more mothers and fathers parenting alone into poverty. Who cares, though, so long as the Government can spin the numbers? Who cares that there was a failure to back up these measures to increase employment with other policy changes, such as a reduction in the cost of childcare, rent reductions, family-friendly employment practices and greater access to education? In Ireland, 84% of lone parents were unable to meet unexpected expenses. This compares with an EU 15 average of 58%. Unexpected expenses can mean a trip to the doctor or the dentist for either the parent or the child. There is also a fear of other unexpected expenses. This is why we see many lone parents being forced to deal with very unscrupulous moneylenders, who charge interest rates in the hundreds of per cent on the money they lend to lone parents and others.

One of the recommendations included in the St. Vincent de Paul report is to benchmark social welfare payments, such as the jobseeker's transitional payment and the working family payment, to the cost of a minimum standard of living to ensure adequate income. Sinn Féin introduced legislation to this effect last year in the Dáil, and I urge the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to consider this as one way in which we can lift lone-parent families out of poverty.

Another recommendation that could be acted on immediately is to extend the cut-off age for the jobseeker's transitional payment until the youngest child is 18 to assist lone parents in ensuring they are actually better off at work. I would suggest even beyond the age of 18. I would suggest this should be extended to children still in education and going into third level education. In the North there is the child maintenance service. Sinn Féin has proposed that this be established here as well.

Finally, SUSI must be extended to students studying part time to allow lone parents to access education while fulfilling their caring responsibilities. I ask the Minister to come before the House to discuss this report. I thank the St. Vincent de Paul not only for this report and the numerous other reports it has done, but for all it does for people struggling in poverty in this country. Time and time again I have had to go to the St. Vincent de Paul on behalf of families, whether the issue be education or that they just cannot live. They cannot exist. Such families are dependent on the St. Vincent de Paul. I commend all the volunteers in St. Vincent de Paul for the wonderful work they do.

The delay in legislation passing through the House has been mentioned many times in the press, especially in respect of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. May I give the Leader a commitment on behalf of my Labour Party colleagues and Senator Norris? We will facilitate the passage of any legislation coming into this House as soon as it is ready. I do not think the judicial appointments Bill is delaying the passage of any legislation through the House. What we are seeing is what I would call spin rather than content. If the Leader wants or needs to do so, I suggest he sit down with the leaders of the various groups and let us schedule the legislation he says is being delayed. I do not believe any Senator is delaying any legislation. What the Leader does not want is proper scrutiny and debate on the legislation before the House for his own reasons.

I will raise one other issue with the Leader. Both Senator Noone and I have raised the issue of breastfeeding and its importance for women who are returning to the workforce. Two years ago I published a policy document on this issue for the Labour Party and we had hoped we would see real progress. I point out to the Leader that teachers who breastfeed on their return to work are given one hour a day to express outside their lunchtime break, which is only correct and proper.

The long-term health and emotional benefits of breastfeeding are well known and well established. Teachers have that proper and correct entitlement. Special needs assistants, SNAs, who work beside their teaching colleagues in the same schools, do not, however, have the same entitlement to express breast milk. They have to do it on an already scheduled 20 minute break. This has been raised several times over the last eight months with the Minister for Education and Skills.

The only response has been that the matter is under consideration. We know the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and for the child and there has to be a sense of urgency regarding this issue. The constant answer that it is under consideration is not acceptable. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Education and Skills and come back to us with a response. I hope the response will break down this inequality between SNAs and teachers. If the Minister cannot give a positive answer, then I will be raising this issue again for debate in the House.

I welcome the discussion provoked by Senator McDowell. I hope he will support the Civil Liability (Capping of General Damages) Bill 2019 that I will be introducing tomorrow. I hope the Bill will move to Second Stage during Private Members' time in a couple of weeks. I will seek support for this Bill because it will be very important for people paying insurance.

I also want to raise an issue brought to my attention over the weekend. When I was growing up three Rs were used for reduce, reuse and recycle. We are all now talking about climate change, climate action and what needs to be done. We have a situation, however, at the moment where the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, will not license recycling facilities for concrete and allow it be reused. It has to be put back into the ground instead.

As a consequence, more stone and rock has to be quarried and used. I am referring to concrete that could be recycled and be perfectly usable for roadways and footpaths. It is not suitable for building as there is a potential issue with pyrite, but it can be used for other construction projects such as in-farm roadways. The EPA will not, however, grant licences to various highly-regarded companies that could produce this recycled material. The concrete has to be disposed of in a landfill as a result. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House and address this matter. It is a ludicrous situation. This recyclable material could be reused in various forms in construction or in the farm sector and that would be good for the environment.

I am raising the issue of rural broadband. The Government’s national broadband plan was announced in 2012. We are still waiting seven years later. The delay and uncertainty continues, unfortunately. That uncertainty has been added to in recent days by comments made by the Taoiseach. He seemed to indicate that a hard Brexit, and a resultant bailout for farmers, could affect the national broadband plan. His comments were rejected outright by the president of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, Mr. Joe Healy. It is important we get clarity on this issue.

Broadband is not just an essential tool for the farming community. It is also vital for rural businesses and rural families throughout the country.

Rural Ireland has been waiting long enough for broadband. Why should the people of rural Ireland be treated like second-class citizens when it comes to modern communications? Rural Ireland needs certainty and clarity on when exactly it will get broadband. I hope that today the Leader will request the Minister to come in and give us clarity on the Taoiseach's comments and when rural families and businesses, as well as farmers throughout rural Ireland, can expect the national broadband plan to be rolled out.

I will briefly touch on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. It is very unfortunate that last week at our whips and leaders meeting we were told categorically by the Leader that the Bill would not be on the schedule this week. I accept the agenda can change. We have to plan for this and if those meetings are to amount to anything, we must have some assurances. The Leader explained there is flexibility and I respect that. At the same time, that is what we were told. Other stories emanated over the weekend as to how the circumstances changed. I will be sharing those with the Seanad later but I will not eat into my time now.

Will the Senator repeat that?

I am sorry but I will not repeat myself.

I did not hear the Senator.

I said I will address those other issues later.

Senator Boyhan should proceed without interruption.

I did not hear what he said.

I have never had the problem of people not hearing me in my life.

I will not eat into the time I have now but I will share more of that later when we discuss the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. As leaders and whips in that meeting, we had the understanding there would be no Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 business this week.

Why did he not say it to me?

I cannot keep repeating myself if the Leader cannot hear me.

I asked why the Senator did not contact me.

The Leader will have an opportunity to respond.

I understood from speaking with the Leader that the Bill would not be on the schedule of business this week.

Why did the Senator not contact me instead of grandstanding now?

Senator Boyhan, without interruption.

I will not have my time eaten into. I am speaking through the Chair.

The Senator will go over his time anyway.

He has not yet. It is a matter for the Chair to decide, as the Senator knows from his experience.

I will touch on the Rebuilding Ireland loan scheme. People woke up this morning to hear on RTÉ's "Morning Ireland" the devastating news that funding had run out for the scheme, which is really disappointing. We should ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come in and explain this. The reality is that the people involved with this finance scheme earn slightly above the threshold for the housing assistance payment or social housing. They do not qualify for those schemes. These are the people who get up early in the morning, driving long journeys to work and home again. They now find themselves outside a scheme that could provide housing. These are the people we should be encouraging but it is important we have all the facts, so it is important to have the Minister in here as soon as possible to explain the shortcomings in that scheme.

I wish to raise a planning matter. Everybody wants houses built but we must be very careful about building infrastructure to provide for families who move into any new houses. I recently had a meeting with residents in an area where six new building projects have either got planning or are in the process of getting planning. This will add 400 houses to an area without any overall master plan for the area with respect to the provision of childcare facilities, recreational areas or sporting venues. I am seriously concerned that six projects can get planning permission in such circumstances. One scheme has approximately 170 houses and the other five will have 40 or 50 houses each. They are separate applications so there does not appear to be an overall strategy on how they should be dealt with.

We need to watch this very carefully. In the not too distant future, the area will have many young children and teenagers but there will not be any facilities where they can be involved with sport or recreational activities. It is important that when something like this happens, a local authority should say, "Hold on a second now, we need to put in a master plan before granting any further planning permission".

We need the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in here on the next occasion to deal with planning, especially in areas outside cities or in new towns that are being created. I am surprised that no overall plans have been produced for these projects. Originally, the projects were villages but they are now turning into towns. If all these projects go ahead, the area involved will be larger than four or five county towns in County Cork put together. We must invite the Minister in to talk about this matter and ensure that the planning criteria and all the boxes are ticked in terms of amenities for the people who move into the accommodation.

I welcome the announcement made by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, that he will introduce legislation to appoint an online safety commissioner. That is a hugely positive result for the people who have long championed the need for a regulator. Organisations like Cyber Safe Ireland and the ISPCC and the Ombudsman for Children have also called for the commission for some time. It also reflects the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in its report on digital safety and harmful communications. Forming a stand-alone office will strengthen the State's efforts to combat micro-targeting, advertisements and cyberbullying. Ultimately, the initiative will allow users to interact online in a safer manner. The proposals mirror the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017, which was brought forward by Deputy Ó Laoghaire. I commend him on his efforts because without them, I do not think the current initiative would be happening.

I wish to note my concern as to why the Government must spend time and resources drafting its own legislation and taking up the time of the Select Committee on Justice and Equality as it is already working on the Bill put forward by Deputy Ó Laoghaire. I call on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to work with the committee and amend the legislation, if necessary. That would be a more prudent use of resources.

The Minister for Health said on this week's "The Week in Politics" that some of the Private Members' Bills brought forward in these Houses are poorly drafted. He is right but in defence of Members who draft legislation, they do not have the resources of an entire Department at their disposal. If a Department is willing to support, in principle, legislation, then there is an onus and a responsibility on the Department to draft amendments or to work with the legislator.

We were all confounded by the latest threat and app in terms of the appropriateness of the Internet. I encourage everyone, including parents, teachers and students, to get involved in the six-week public consultation launched this week on online safety legislation to improve online safety and to ensure that children especially can be protected online.

For far too long we have left the door open for all sorts of awful things to sneak in. We must ensure that this does not happen. Fianna Fáil has repeatedly called for the establishment of a regulator for technology giants or an online safety commissioner who would oversee a system that would protect consumers. This is an urgent matter and, frankly, the State has dragged its heels in terms of this matter.

Online platforms are currently required to remove content which is a criminal offence under Irish and EU laws. However, our laws do not meaningfully prevent such things as the Momo challenge, which had the children of Ireland up all night all last week. The question I heard repeatedly being asked was what can be done about this matter. I want giant tech companies to take greater steps to keep their users safe online. We would be one of the first countries to have such regulations. Since we are home to so many of these companies, we need to lead the way. I call on members of the public to make submissions because it is important that they do so.

I second the call by Senator Boylan to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in here for a debate.

Does the Senator mean Senator Boyhan?

Yes, Senator Boyhan. He asked that the Minister be invited in here.

I thought the Senator said "Boylan".

No. Senator Boyhan asked for the Minister to be invited into the Seanad to address the issue of mortgages. It is an absolute disgrace that young people who want to apply for a mortgage and who do not qualify to be placed on the local authority housing list will be told that they cannot apply for a mortgage. That situation is unacceptable.

I echo Senator Warfield's comment. When the Opposition does a good job, and succeeds after more than a year to introduce legislation, I often wonder why the Member is told that it is not perfect enough. Is this because the Department does not want to see the Opposition bringing much-needed legislation through the Oireachtas? Be that as it may, we will keep doing it.

On the issue of notifiable diseases, last week we had an outbreak of mumps and this week an outbreak of measles. The incidence of measles is on the rise worldwide. We have had some 70 cases so far this year, whereas the total last year was much lower than that. There is a concern about the uptake of vaccination for notifiable diseases because if fewer than 95% of the population are vaccinated we lose the herd immunity. The undermining of vaccines has gone on for a long time. There are certain celebrity types in the US who use social media to a great extent to undermine vaccination. We saw the scare mongering that went on when the HPV was provided. I would like the Minister for Health to come to this Chamber to talk to us about the HSE health protection surveillance centre's information on the uptake of vaccination and the notification of notifiable diseases. We need to achieve an uptake of 95% of the eligible population. I know that the uptake figures are sadly lower. This is a public health issue but lots of people are allowing a misunderstanding of the science to influence behaviour. As legislators and as public representatives we need to continuously support the programme of vaccination and highlight the need for it.

I thank the 11 Members of the House for their contribution to the Order of Business. Both Senators Ardagh and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, a Government backed mortgage scheme for first-time buyers launched in February 2018 with a projected 1,000 loans during a three-year period. The scheme has exceeded expectation. Some 575 people have been helped through this scheme to purchase their own home. A further 1,000 applicants have been approved and have not drawn down the funding. Both the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Taoiseach have said that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is in negotiations with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about continuing this very important scheme which allows people who have been refused a loan by the banks to be able to purchase their own home. We all want to see that happen.

What the Members opposite did not say was that the Government is considering increasing the cap above €200 million. The Government is consulting with the Central Bank of Ireland regarding loans being approved. As we all know this is a very important scheme for people which offers a pathway to being able to buy their own home. I certainly hope that we can have this done quickly. It is an important piece of the housing market. Members will know that people who avail of loans under this scheme are those who have had their loan applications rejected for a variety of reasons by commercial banks. I hope the Government, through the Central Bank of Ireland, will facilitate the continuation of this scheme and I very much look forward to the Government working to have the scheme re-opened.

A number of Members have raised the report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Senators Ardagh and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I join with Members in commending and congratulating the volunteers of the society for the significant work they do in communities across our country. They are a very important part of the social fabric of our society and assist many different people in a variety of ways.

In the five-year period from 2012 to 2017 our country was in the depths of the worst recession ever. Government took a number of steps in those times and subsequently to improve supports for lone parents. For example, the income thresholds for the working family payment were raised, rates for qualified children were increased, the earnings disregard for one-parent families and jobseeker transition payments were increased, and back to school clothing and footwear allowance was also increased. If an analysis of the four budgets from 2015 to 2019 was done, it would be seen that the average weekly income of lone parents has increased by €43.75 for those in employment and by €45 for those who are unemployed. This compares favourably with a weekly increase of €39.25 in the earnings of the average household. As a result of budget 2019, lone parents working 15 hours a week at the national minimum wage are now better off by €1,000 a year. Senator Conway-Walsh made reference to visits to doctors. It was this Government and the last Government that introduced the free GP scheme for those under six and those over 70. I know that does not apply in this case, but some people will want to hear that. I will be very happy to have the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, come to the House in respect of the scheme. Last week the Children's Rights Alliance published its 2018 report card which showed that budget 2018 and budget 2019 included measures specifically aimed at supporting families on low incomes. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.

Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of electric and motorised scooters and the challenges they present. I will have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House with regard to that matter.

Senator McDowell, Senator Boyhan and, indirectly, Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I am not going to add any fuel to the fire or add anything to Senator McDowell's comments regarding tweets and newspaper reports in respect of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill last weekend. Members of this House have their views on the Bill and I respect those views entirely. As Leader of the Seanad and on behalf of the Government, it is my job to facilitate all requests in the House. Requests are made every day and I will always try to facilitate them. If Senator Boyhan was discommoded, I sincerely apologise to him. The email to the Cathaoirleach went out at 3.30 p.m. the day after the group meeting. That is one day. I do not believe that discommoded people but, if it did, I apologise. As Senator Boyhan knows quite well, the schedule is an indicative schedule. As I said in this House and in the group meeting, it is my intent to put the Bill on the schedule whenever the Minister for Justice and Equality is available. That is what I have done.

We accept the apology.

I have no problem-----

The firm purpose of the amendment was to-----

If Senator Boyhan was discommoded, I apologise to him. I would never discommode Senator Boyhan or any other Member in any shape or form. Senator Boyhan knows that.

It need not be discussed further; the apology has been accepted.

The Senator, or any other Member, is well able to pick up the telephone and call me, to type an email to me, or to text me. I am very available and I am very flexible when it comes to changing schedules. Members can testify to my ability to reach across the aisle. As the Senator knows quite well, the schedule is indicative and subject to change. Lest there be any confusion and lest people get upset in the future, I will again say to Members of the House that it is my intention to have the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill on the schedule whenever the Minister for Justice and Equality is available to take it, if it is not concluded this week. Members should know that. Let there be no confusion.

The Leader has been perfectly clear.

I will repeat it again because I think it is important-----

-----to ensure that there will be no ambiguity, that people will not be upset or discommoded, and that people will not be crying or going to the media with reports of this, that or the other thing.

No, that is the Leader.

I have never spoken off the record to members of the media.

We accept the Order of Business.

I assure the Senator that I-----

We decide the Order of Business, not the Leader.

I have never gone to members of the media to brief-----

We decide the Order of Business, not the Leader.

-----them on any Bill or on the schedule of the Seanad. I assure the Senator of that fact quite sincerely on the floor of this House. I have never done that, nor will I do so.

If Senator Boyhan reads the article that Senator McDowell-----


You should let me finish instead of interrupting me. I did not mention you.

The Leader should speak through the Chair.

You are not chairing the House.

On a point of order, can the Leas-Chathaoirleach exercise his role and ask the Leader to speak through the Chair?

I have asked the Leader to respond.

I have always done that. I wish other Members would do the same.

Order, please. This subject has been amplified enough. Senators must calm down.

Let me say it again. I have never tried to divide the House. If Senator Boyhan was really discommoded, I sincerely apologise to him. I would not want to upset him in any way because I know how sensitive about issues he can be at times.

Senator Boyhan accepts the apology. I ask the Leader to move on.

I will never recoil-----

We do not want any personal comments. Let us move on.

If we do not conclude the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 this week, it is my intention to place it on the schedule as soon as the Minister for Justice and Equality is available.

The Senator has made that clear.

I will repeat again for the benefit of the House-----

No, it is important. I have never briefed any journalist against a Member or on the Bill, other than to answer questions I have been asked about the number of hours of debate. I have only done that to clarify when Members of the House have gone to the media with inaccuracies about the number of hours we have spent on the Bill.

Senator Humphreys mentioned breastfeeding, which is a very important issue. He and Senator Noone have raised the matter before. There is a whole new dynamic in the school setting given the changes in our school communities. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. To get a more expeditious reply, it may be more appropriate to have the matter raised as a Topical Issue or to submit it for the Commencement debate. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House.

I would be happy to submit a Topical Issue matter.

Senator Lawlor made a very important contribution regarding the issuing of licences by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. I do not have the answer, but a Commencement matter might be useful in getting a quick response.

Senator Gallagher raised the national broadband plan. He failed to recognise that his party in government sold off Eircom and delayed the national strategy by a generation. The Taoiseach has asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, to prepare a report on costing and the signalling around due diligence on the part of officials. The Minister and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will come back to the Cabinet and the Houses of the Oireachtas regarding the matter. Senator Gallagher also failed to recognise that his party colleague, Deputy Dooley, made reference to the ESB. We all recognise that the Government cannot just ask the ESB to manage broadband under the national broadband plan. That is a harebrained idea that should be knocked on the head.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of planning. It is important that due regard is given to a master plan in the drawing up of county development plans and city development plans. The points the Senator made are very relevant. I will have the Minister come to the House.

Senators Warfield, Murnane O'Connor and Devine referred to yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment of a new digital safety commission Bill that will come before the House. We will have that debate in due course. We all recognise that in an evolving and changing world there is a need for a greater emphasis on accountability and transparency. I cannot say why the Department is pursuing its own Bill as opposed to working with Deputy Ó Laoghaire, Deputy Lawless or others on their Bills. The Government and Department are coming together to bring their own Bill forward. However, when we see Bills that are workable it is important to embrace them.

The point made by Senator Devine around notifiable diseases is an important one, about which we must be very vigilant. We should also promote vaccination. I would be happy for the Minister for Health to come to the House to address the matter.

Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to", put and declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 4.20 p.m. and resumed at 4.55 p.m.