The Order of Business is No. 1, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 80, motion 9, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time can be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than seven minutes and the proposer to be given four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, statements on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time can be shared and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Protection of Employment (Measures to Counter False Self-Employment) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Dolphin Park is the home of the Templeogue Synge Street GAA club. There is a row brewing between Templeogue Synge Street and Kevin's Hurling and Camogie Club.
I cannot hear the Senator.
There is a noise in the background. I can hear Senator Ardagh but her words may not carry as there seems to be some noise behind her.
A row is brewing between two GAA clubs located in the inner city of Dublin - Templeogue Synge Street and Kevin's GAA Club. These are two super clubs and it is unfortunate that they have been pitted against each other due to the development of lands at Dolphin Park. The real issue is that the Kevin's club has genuine concerns that it will not have access to pitches it currently has access to. The club was set up in 1903 or before that because the records go back quite a long time. The club provides services to inner city kids, who are the most disadvantaged kids in the country. The club does not have its own home pitch so must rely on the Templeogue Synge Street GAA Club with which it has a very good relationship.
A row is brewing and I appeal to the president of the GAA to get involved and find a meaningful way to resolve this issue. This is very serious and the local community is very upset but I believe a solution can be found if there is a bit of pragmatism and the powers that be get involved. Ultimately, the Kevin's club seeks a home site. It is probably the biggest parish in the country in terms of the number of young people that does not have its own pitch. Club members always have to travel outside of their home grounds and use other people's pitches as their home pitch, which is a real travesty as the Kevin's club is probably one of the only hurling clubs in the inner city. These youths should be encouraged and supported but at the moment, as politicians, we have really neglected them. I would like this issue put on the record of the House.
I wish to draw the attention of Senators to the fact that this is Organ Donor Awareness Week. I appeal to people to talk to their families and friends about organ donation and urge them to have a discussion. I am an organ donor and it is on the record of this House that I would like all my organs used if anything happened to me. If anyone wants to get an organ donor card he or she can contact the Irish Kidney Association. It is vital that we all have a conversation about organ donation.
When will the newly established Legal Service Regulatory Authority issue guidelines on limited liability partnerships, LLPs, for solicitors?
Many solicitors have spoken to me about this. They are waiting to find out when the guidelines will be issued so that they can set up LLPs. This has been on the table but solicitors have not yet been given any direction on the matter.
I dtosach báire, beidh deireadh seachtaine againn ag foghlaim Gaeilge ar an gCeathrú Rua ar an Aoine, 26 Aibreán go dtí Dé Domhnaigh, 28 Aibreán. Is do Sheanadóirí agus Teachtaí Dála é sin. Seans gurb é seo an chéad uair riamh go raibh a leithéid de chúrsa ar bun. Tá sé eagraithe i gcomhréir le hOllscoil na hÉireann Gaillimh agus Acadamh na Gaeilge ansin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh formhór nó beagnach gachBall in ann teacht. An Irish language weekend programme for all Deputies and Senators will take place from Friday, 26 April, to Sunday, 28 April, in An Cheathrú Rua. It has been organised by the Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge in NUIG. My parliamentary assistant, Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, and Treasa Uí Lorcáin, course director, have done a huge amount of work on this. I want to see all Senators there. Will they be there?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir. Tá súil agam go mbeidh na Seanadóirí ann. Deireadh seachtaine an-mhaith a bheas ann. Senators will stay with a bean an tí. Gaeilge an t-am ar fad. We will send them home if they speak English so caithfidh siad Gaeilge a labhairt an t-am ar fad mar tá siad ag dul ag an nGaeltacht.
That is what kept us speaking English all these years - sending us home straightaway.
The Senator's name is down so, hopefully, we will see her there le cúnamh Dé.
Ná bí ag cur isteach orm anois.
Fuair chuile Sheanadóir coinne ríomhphoist mar gheall air so tá súil agam go mbeidh siad in ann a bheith ann. Beidh deireadh seachtaine an-mhaith ann le haghaidh foghlaim an Ghaeilge, píosa craic agus mar sin de i nGaeltacht Chonamara.
Craic de shaghas éigin eile. Chonaic mé tuarascáil ón Economic and Social Research Institute. The ESRI published a report on small and medium size enterprises, SMEs, in the past couple of days. Short-term loans are decreasing in number, the number of credit rejections on short-term loans is increasing, lending conditions are tighter and interest rates are increasing. Large companies face an interest rate on new loans of 1.92%, which is 60 basis points higher than the European average. Large Irish companies are paying higher interest rates. I am passionate about SMEs and I know everybody here believes in business, particularly small and medium size enterprises. SMEs constitute the croí or heart of Ireland. The ESRI survey shows that Irish firms face an interest rate of 4.29% compared with a European average of 2.24%. This is captured by data by loans of less than €250,000. The interest rate being paid on loans by SMEs in Ireland is almost double the European rate. The euro interbank offered rate, EURIBOR, is negative. This means that the amount of money in loans given from one bank to another is negative. One bank is paying another bank to take the money. That means there is roughly 4% profit for the banks. I remind the House that during the days of the Celtic tiger, banks were making a margin of between 1% and 1.5%, not between 4% and 4.5%. I applaud the Government for its efforts to help SMEs, particularly with the Brexit loans, but we need to review how effective that is. The direction is good. It is positive and great effort is being made. The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland published its report yesterday agus is fiú é sin a léamh. An bhféadfadh an Ceannaire teaghmháil a dhéanamh leis an Aire faoi tabhairt faoin gceist sin?
We will take up Senator Ó Céidigh's invitation for the event from 26 to 28 April. It is a great initiative and I thank Treasa and Cáit for organising it. It is hugely important that we can all speak our native tongue.
I want to challenge the remarks made by the Taoiseach at the weekend when he dismissed out of hand the idea that the ESB and existing infrastructure could be used to deliver broadband. I want to know if his colleagues in this Chamber share his views in this regard because I believe that not only is he wrong about this, his arrogance and dismissal of the proposal, which is getting increasing support, shows that the Taoiseach was never in touch with rural Ireland in the first place. I know he mentioned Belmullet in his speech but he needs to do more than namecheck places to make us believe he has an understanding of the issues in rural Ireland. Why can we not use ESB poles for fibre broadband? What does the Taoiseach think is already hanging from the poles?
The Taoiseach has also said that broadband simply has to be underground. This is nonsense. Households and businesses in Mayo are incensed by this statement. We cannot see how the Taoiseach can be so dismissive of a workable solution while in the very same interview he openly admitted that the project will cost many multiples of the original €500 million.
A large number of Government Deputies used the broadband issue when asking for votes in the previous general election, claiming that only a Fine Gael-led Government could deliver such a key element of business. Come the next election, there will be a very quick test to see if that promise has been delivered upon. The Government cannot claim credit for any private companies because we must also take affordability into the supply of broadband. People will have a very easy test. When they turn on their computers and try to download a design plan, upload agricultural forms, get a map or do whatever needs to be done on a computer with Government Departments, they can see how fast that happens and how long they must wait. I am asking for the Minister to come to the House with an open mind to listen to all options for delivering this plan. That is the only solution. At the weekend, the Taoiseach effectively told rural Ireland to wait and trust him but we can wait no longer and I do not think many people believe him, never mind trust him, on this issue. Broadband will be judged on whether it is delivered. Promise after promise for decades is just not good enough any more in rural Ireland. This Government will stand or fall on the issue of broadband, particularly in rural Ireland.
I commend Connect, Fórsa and SIPTU on the very strong vision for local government and public services they set out today in the More Power To You campaign.
My key objective this morning is to move a new Bill. I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 15 be taken before No. 1 today. No. 15 is a Bill I am proposing on the preparation and award of contracts by public authorities and utility undertakings. This Bill will help put quality and joined-up thinking deeper into the procurement process in Ireland. In recent months and years, we have seen a number of controversies that have highlighted the problems with current procurement practices and culture. However, this Bill is not simply about those problems. It is also about the immense positive potential our procurement has. When we spend public money, we have the power to get great public benefit and to ensure that any moneys spent give us not only the best economic return but also social, environmental and other benefits. My Bill will address the current practice of lowest cost bidding. Lowest cost bidding is one option that any procurement official will face.
My Bill will include price-quality ratio in the designing of contracts so that their administration on the basis of both price and quality will be the default option, and that while lowest cost will still be an option, it will require sign-off from a senior official and the publication of a rationale.
The national development plan, NDP, through which the Government is spending billions of euro, involves once in a generation, sometimes once in a lifetime, projects. I am setting a target of 50% quality on any NDPs. Exceptions can be made, but those exceptions must be justified. The Bill will empower procurement officials to deliver more for the public from how its money is spent.
The Bill also empowers the Minister to set out guidelines which bring together our commitments on climate change, the rights of persons with a disability and all of the established policies and existing obligations, and encourages procurement officials to think about that bigger picture when they are designing a procurement contract.
I believe this would be a positive and constructive contribution that would make a tangible difference. Public procurement affects the most intimate parts of people's lives here in Ireland as well as shaping the way that we design our future.
I am hopeful that all parties in this House will be supportive of the Bill. I hope to bring it forward to Second Stage on Wednesday next and I will be asking for the Senators' support at that point. I believe this is a chance to not only address the problems but access the potential in public spending.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I hope that the Leader will be able to accommodate the taking of No. 15.
I will briefly raise two issues. I met a group of parents in north Dublin this morning regarding class places for children with special needs, in particular, autism. This is something that this House could do some work on. It is a topic I raise frequently. The issue partly is that it falls between the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health, and children and parents are falling between those two stools. Perhaps the Leader could facilitate a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss the availability of places for children and the entire process that parents go through. Once they get a diagnosis at an early age, they are given a list of schools to apply to and it is pot luck as to whether they get a place. In a spirit of co-operation and bipartisanship, we could facilitate that discussion and talk about not only the immediacy of the issue for these particular parents but how the system could be enhanced and improved. There are lengthy waiting lists as well for early intervention for children across north Dublin and I am sure that is replicated throughout the country. While we have made advances in this area, there is much more to do. I would appreciate the opportunity to have that debate.
I would also appreciate the opportunity to have a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, although this important issue is up for discussion at an Oireachtas joint committee meeting in two weeks. The House should have a say on how the public money is being spent by the FAI. I am fast coming to the conclusion that a change will only happen if the Government decides to withhold funding from the association. That would be the nuclear option but when one thinks of how important this game is for many people in Ireland, and when one thinks of disadvantaged communities that love this game, the power of the game and how poorly it is being run, the question marks over the financial arrangements within the FAI, and the fact that the former CEO can be given a new position within the organisation, significant corporate governance issues need to be addressed. I am not sure whether the Oireachtas joint committee can get to the bottom of everything because there are many matters on its plate. If we were to have a discussion in this Chamber with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I would suggest that perhaps it is time for the State to do what it can possibly most powerfully do and threaten to withhold funding from the FAI on the basis that it does not justify the funding that it gets. If they were to get their house in order and put a new regime in place to put children and players at the centre of what they do for the betterment of the game in Ireland, they would justify their funding and, in fact, they would justify much more funding in future. I ask for that debate as well.
I support the protest outside the Dáil which will take place this afternoon by the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, the members of which are in dispute with their employer, the HSE. NASRA, which represents more than 600 ambulance personnel, currently falls under the umbrella of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. This group of workers within the healthcare system want to have their own union and the HSE does not want them to. They have held two strikes in the past couple of months and the issue needs to be dealt with. Ambulance service workers are an integral part of the health system. They not only provide an emergency response service and deal with the most gruesome situations on some occasions, but they also provide an essential service on a daily basis for the health service. Many of these workers are highly-trained paramedics and highly qualified. I urge the HSE to do the right thing and recognise their union. They have unique issues to themselves which set them apart from other interests of workers within the health service. I have spoken with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, regarding the issue and I have pressed him to resolve it. I have every confidence that he will take this issue by the scruff of the neck with a view to having it resolved in the short term. I look forward to meeting some of these workers later. It is a worthwhile ask that they are making and they should be supported. It is a reasonable request.
Over the past few days, the former chief executive officer of the FAI stepped aside amid a hail of controversy. I will not name him in deference to the House's rules. He is being kept on in the FAI in another role and it is my belief that he is being kept on in that role to facilitate him getting a position on UEFA. The FAI must not allow this to happen while a cloud hangs over this man's head. I do not say that the man has done anything wrong but let us know exactly the full story before Ireland is represented at UEFA level by somebody who we may not want in the position.
I have spoken on many occasions in this House about the use of cybertechnology in bullying Trump-like or, to a certain degree, childish behaviour and I was deeply disappointed last weekend to find the Government party using an image of the leader of the Fianna Fáil wagging his finger. It is beneath politics. It is all good for us to have a robust engagement in this House with one another but when one starts using images, it brings us down to the level of schoolchildren. It is the epitome of cyberbullying. It is wrong, in every sense of the word. I am not saying it because it is the Fine Gael Party, which I hold in great esteem. Nobody in politics should ever use images like that to criticise somebody else in politics. One can get up and say all one wants. One does not have to use these images. We do not have to go to the extremes that we complain about members of the public going to when they refer to us. It is beneath us. It is beneath politics. The Taoiseach should come out and apologise, not necessarily to the Fianna Fáil Party but to the country for stooping to the levels that we would not expect of any decent citizen in this country.
I raise the issue of lending, following what Senator Ó Céidigh said. I was speaking at the economics society in UCC last Monday night where a presentation was made by Mr. Seamus Coffey, who is on the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC.
He produced very detailed graphs on the levels of savings and borrowings in Ireland. It is interesting that we now have more savings than borrowings, which is a good. The question arises as to how best to use the savings to benefit those who require money to buy their own homes or apartments. I am not sure we are doing sufficient work in this area, particularly for those on lower incomes who need access to local authority funding.
I had a case recently concerning somebody who applied to Cork City Council in February 2018 for a loan to buy a house in which they had already been living for 17 or 18 years. They are now nearly paying more rent because of their earnings than what they would pay on borrowings. It took until October 2018 before they got a reply about their loan application. That was eight or nine months later. That is not the way to deal with a loan application. I have heard of a number of other cases in which there are considerable delays in the assessment by local authorities of applications by people who are genuinely trying to move on and take the step to look after their own affairs and who are prepared to buy and look after their own property. Our local authorities are not doing enough.
It is about time we had a debate in this House on how we can improve circumstances for those in the middle income group who cannot borrow from the private sector but who should be supported through the local authority system. I ask that we have a debate on this matter to determine whether we can bring about some changes.
I raise the issue of Limerick being top of the league in regard to patients on trolleys. This morning, there were 45 patients on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. That is a relatively good result. Last week, the number was 76. It was last week that management in University Hospital Limerick announced it was closing another ward, containing 17 more beds. It beggars belief when the hospital consistently has the highest number of patients on trolleys in the country, day after day and week after week. What makes it even worse is that hospital management insists it has been inclusive in talking to staff about these matters. One can see from statements from the INMO and SIPTU that, far from being included, they have been disregarded. At a meeting on 9 January, it was confirmed to union officials that University Hospital Limerick had a deficit of 59 nurses, who would be required to reach the minimum nursing staff complement.
Since 9 January, things have got worse. My colleagues in the hospital have told me that, week after week, more nurses are resigning and voting with their feet because the conditions are absolutely intolerable in the hospital. The optimum capacity of the hospital is 85% but it is currently working at 110%. It is operating at a capacity of 110% although there was a shortfall of 59 nurses in January. The hospital believes the best idea is to close another ward. It is an absolute disgrace.
I have been raising the incompetence and poor management of University Hospital Limerick for well over a year here. I have asked for ministerial intervention and have written to the Minister, and I have received absolutely nothing in reply. My colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, always tells me how frustrated he is because when he puts parliamentary questions to the Minister, he does not even turn up to answer them. I call again for an urgent debate on this issue and ministerial intervention before matters get even worse in our local hospital in Limerick.
I second the request on the Order of Business made by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins.
I raise the issue of non-disclosure agreements being used by employers and harassers in the workplace. I regard them mainly as an extension of the abuse of power in the first place. It was well over a year ago that I asked for a debate on the abuse of power within the workplace. Having come from the launch of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission's dignity and respect policy, I believe some of the issues associated with non-disclosure agreements being used and sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace could be discussed as part of a debate on that policy.
I am working on legislation banning the use of non-disclosure agreements. It would be positive to have a debate before it is introduced. The Cathaoirleach, in his contribution, talked about raising awareness to understand how one’s behaviour affects others and whether it falls into the categories of bullying and harassment. Having a debate on the policy would be a good place to start. Will the Leader consider scheduling a debate on the policy of the Oireachtas?
Why was almost €3 million spent by the HSE to employ general medical card scheme, GMS, GP locums when doctors around the country were offering to take on a list when a colleague moved on? These doctors were prevented from doing so by the HSE. Why are we allowing circumstances in which we keep throwing away much-needed money? There are doctors willing to ensure continuity of care for patients but the HSE prefers to employ locums at a large cost. I read yesterday in The Medical Independent that the national average annual cost to the HSE for GMS GP locums is €262,000, and that last year the HSE employed at least 11 GMS GP locums nationally as part of an effort to provide cover for 22 vacant GMS GP panels. According to the article, the HSE stated 176 GMS GPs were awarded contracts under the scheme in 2018 while 101 GMS GPs retired. I would like the Leader to call on the Minister to come to the House to explain why we are not using common sense. I will most likely be told by the HSE that it is struggling to fill vacant GMS panels with a permanent GP following Government cuts but I urge the saving of money where an offer is made to take on a list. I want the Minister to come to this House.
We have heard reports of people on trolleys again and of wards closing. I have even heard people tell me that they cannot get an extra pillow because there are none in hospitals now. It is now at the stage where one is lucky if one has a pillow. If one asks for another, one is told there are none. We need to have the Minister in here and make the HSE accountable for decisions it is making.
I endorse the comments of my colleague, Senator Ardagh, on Organ Donor Awareness Week. I am not sure the House is aware that we have had for the past few years a national organ donor commemorative park, in Galway. It is a beautiful park in Salthill between the two hotels at the end of the promenade. It is really worth a visit. It was initiated by parents whose only child, an organ donor, was killed in an accident. I certainly endorse what was said about organ donation. We should all be donors.
The film "Boy Erased" is yet another unmasking of the cruelty of so-called conversion therapy. It is a vile practice designed to suppress, change or eliminate a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The practice has been condemned and discredited by the UN Committee Against Torture, European Parliament and Irish Council for Psychotherapy. On 6 March, the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy released a statement that condemned the practice of so-called conversion therapy. This was in the aftermath of a screening of "Once Gay: Matthew and Friends" in Townsend Street Presbyterian Church in west Belfast. We know well that conversion therapy leads to depression, anxiety, homelessness and suicide. I have been in constant engagement with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, whose Department is working towards amendments to the Sinn Féin legislation.
It has been co-signed by all parties and many Independents in this House. I raise it because it is a key commitment under the LGBTI youth strategy. That strategy was launched in June of last year by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in Temple Bar. The strategy will conclude in 2020 so we are halfway through it. Can we schedule statements with the Minister in this House regarding progress on the LGBTI youth strategy 2018-2020?
The Valuation Office is re-evaluating commercial properties and business premises throughout counties Monaghan and Cavan with a view to revaluing the rates relating to properties used for business purposes, namely, small shops, offices, bars, public houses or whatever. In recent days, I have been contacted by a number of business owners in Clones, County Monaghan, who have received documentation relating to the revaluation of the rates for their properties. Unfortunately, it has come as a great disappointment to and caused concern among them that many of them will face substantial increases in their rates bills, possibly for next year. They are so concerned that they held a meeting in Clones last night to discuss the matter. I understand that staff of the Valuation Office who are currently operating in County Monaghan are available to meet business owners. That is a positive development and the process is ongoing.
Senators know only too well that there are many towns and villages in which small shops, bars and restaurants are closing their doors. The problem is particularly acute in the Border counties. I am concerned that the Valuation Office uses a methodology to calculate rates that is based on the rental income of particular properties. That might be a useful tool and a barometer for a large provincial town but it is not for a small town such as Clones and many like it throughout the country.
We all have concerns about Brexit. Stark reports are coming out on a daily basis about fears over what might become reality for many of us after Brexit, no matter what kind of Brexit we get. No counties will be more affected than those in the Border region. I call for this process of revaluation of commercial properties throughout counties Monaghan and Cavan, and indeed the other Border counties, to be suspended until we know where we are going in the context of Brexit. Many business owners in Border areas have serious concerns over what the future will hold for them and the last thing they need is a rate increase on top of the uncertainty of Brexit. For that reason, I respectfully request that the Valuation Office suspend the process until we know what Brexit is going to look like.
Colleagues will agree that the number of suicides about which we hear, in both our communities and nationally, is frightening. I am conscious that many of us wonder whether to talk about this and how to do so. I am mindful of the many people who are suffering as a result of a family member taking his or her own life. This is a serious problem and we must talk about it and keep it on the agenda. In Mayo News lately, the coroner for north Mayo, Dr. Eleanor Fitzgerald, commented that the number of suicides she was dealing with was alarming. She said:
The suicide increases in Mayo, including young people, is alarming. Up to 50 percent of inquests held are because of self-inflicted injuries and suicide ... It is disheartening to see young people give up on life.
The Galway coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, reported in The Connacht Tribune earlier this month that a recently held inquest dealt with five suicides, including that of a young teenage boy. There are often suicide attempts in the waterways of Galway city and suicides late at night when people who need support and may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol take that final, tragic, utterly mistaken decision. Indeed, every few days there seem to be reports of people entering the waterways in Galway, with a number of tragic and untimely deaths in the past few weeks alone.
There is an initiative in Galway whereby local people are asking Galway City Council to take proactive steps to increase the chances of survival for a person who jumps into the River Corrib in Galway or someone who falls in accidentally. We know that many people who attempt or commit suicide can change their minds. The reality is that if that person has entered a certain part of the river in Galway, even if he or she instantly regrets his or her course of action, his or her chances of getting to safety are low given that the river is so fast-flowing. A petition has been signed by nearly 30,000 people asking Galway City Council to introduce some measures including safety nets along the walkways along the river and ropes across the river that a person being swept along at speed might be able to reach out for. The petition calls for safety ladders at regular intervals and sensors. There are a good number of life rings along the walkway, I am talking about the section of the river from the Salmon Weir Bridge to the Wolfe Tone Bridge in particular. The council is to be commended on the provision of those rings but more must be done. Nets and ropes can be implemented at minimal cost. I urge the council to address this as a matter of priority.
Organisations such as Limerick Suicide Watch deserve huge support and credit. The National Suicide Prevention Office and the Connecting for Life programme, which seeks to reduce suicides by 2020 via seven goals, are good but more focus is needed. Our colleague, Senator Freeman, has led the way in providing support services for persons contemplating suicide through Pieta House and many of us are involved in the Darkness Into Light event in May. I raise this matter in the knowledge that colleagues will agree that suicide prevention and constant attention to providing more and better support services must be a priority for Government and at local authority level. I worry about the impact of recent cost excesses in other areas of the national budget. I am calling on Galway City Council in particular to take heed of the people who are calling for further safety features along the River Corrib.
When the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security publishes its report, I request that the House engage in an immediate debate on it. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our generation. Schoolchildren were marching last week about this issue and it is as much about current generations as future ones. I attended a public meeting, along with many others, in the South Court Hotel in Limerick regarding an incinerator being built in Mongret by Irish Cement. There was a large turnout. This is something I feel strongly about and I do not think the incinerator should go ahead. I am more interested, in the context of climate change, in the fact that the particular licence application for the incinerator is before the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. I am really concerned about the reform of the latter. The planning permission for the building of the physical structure is given by the local authority prior to the matter being looked at by the EPA for the granting of the licence. That is putting the cart before the horse. The licence for the operation of any form of incinerator or facility of that nature should effectively be adjudicated upon by the licensing authority for the operation of such a facility, which is the EPA, prior to the grant of planning being given by the local authority for the physical structure. Furthermore, it is my understanding that the local authority, Limerick City and County Council, would be unable to give permission for the physical structure if they have any environmental concerns. There is a contradiction there. A local authority is unable to grant permission for a physical structure if it has any environmental concerns and yet it can give that grant prior to the licence being applied for with the EPA which is involved in the operation and adjudication on the environmental concerns.
I want to see a number of things happen, the first of which is reform of the EPA whereby if a facility is in any way burning alternative fuels, the EPA, as licensing authority, would have to adjudicate on it before the application goes before the local authority, like Limerick City or County Council, for planning permission.
Second, the monitoring side of the EPA's remit is important. Various recent reports have stated that air pollution is the source of huge environmental and health concerns. There is a public health issue regarding the Irish Cement site at Mungret. It is important that the EPA have a proper monitoring facility in respect of air pollution. New monitoring sites have been put in place throughout Mungret and they-----
On a point of order, it is Fine Gael policy to support incineration.
Senator Gavan is wrong.
This was pointed out to Fine Gael last week as well-----
With all due respect, that was a sort of shot below the belt rather than a point of order. If Senator O'Donnell has an issue to raise, I will allow him to do so. Senator Gavan should allow him conclude.
My bona fides on this issue are genuine, and I will take no lectures on it. I have been involved with the issue from day one. Incinerators, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with them, cannot be put into the Mungret and Dooradoyle area, which has a large population and in which many houses are located.
Then Fine Gael should change its party policy.
My bona fides on this are genuine, and anyone who questions them-----
Fine Gael should change its party policy then.
May I just deal with this issue? I want the House to engage in-----
The Senator is a minute over time now.
-----a debate on a structured report. I also want to see reform of the EPA.
I thank the Senator.
The incinerator in Mungret is a public health issue rather than a political one, and I feel strongly about it. I want everyone to work together for the people of the area comprising Dooradoyle, Raheen and Mungret.
I thank the Senator.
That is my consideration.
Fine Gael should change its party policy.
It is non-political.
I think the two candidates are trying to incinerate each other's-----
Please, Senator. I allowed some injury time. Senator Kieran O'Donnell was obviously encouraged to continue by Senator Gavan's intervention.
I thought Senator Mullen was against extinguishing life.
I thank the 16 Members who made contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh raised the very important issue of Dolphin Park. I hope there can be facilitation of access for both GAA clubs to the pitches and I echo the Senator's call that an t-Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael should perhaps get involved or that some mechanism should be found for a way forward. As the Senator rightly stated, this is about ensuring not only access to playing pitches but also the continuation of the great work that has been done.
Senators Lawless and Ardagh referred to the very important issue of Organ Donor Awareness Week. As an organ donor myself, I am of the view that we should really promote, highlight and promulgate the benefits of organ donation. I look forward to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, publishing his Bill, in which we will change our organ donation policy. I thank all involved in Organ Donor Awareness Week and I hope we will see more people donate and become aware of the issue. Again, I commend those involved in the promotion and promulgation of this.
I do not have an answer to Senator Ardagh's question about the Legal Service Regulatory Authority and LLPs, but if she drops me a note, I will be happy to approach the Minister on her behalf.
Mar gheall ar an turas go dtí an Ghaeltacht, is dóigh liom go mbeidh a lán daoine ón Seanad ag dul go dtí an Ghaeltacht de thoradh an chuiridh a thug an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh do gach éinne. Déanaim comhghairdeas le foireann Theach Laighean agus an Oireachtais as an turas go dtí an Ceathrú Rua ar 26 nó 27 Aibreán a shocrú. I hope that as many Members as possible will be able to go to the Gaeltacht to engage in the comhrá maidir lenár dteanga dhúchais. It is important we continue to use and express our support for our Irish language. I commend Senator Ó Céidigh and the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas on putting this trip to the Gaeltacht together. It is not a trip, it is an event to help Members promote and use the Irish language. I pity the bean an tí who will have a number of Members of the Houses of Oireachtas with her ar fud an-----
Beidh turas go dtí an Chistin freisin.
Senator Buttimer is going then?
Níl a fhios agam fós. Is dóigh liom go mbeidh a lán comhrá mar gheall ar rudaí eile. Níl a fhios agam fós. B'fhéidir go mbeidh cúpla duine ag dul go dtí áiteanna eile.
Beidh daoine ag dul go dtí an tsíbín.
Senators Ó Céidigh and Colm Burke raised the issue of the banks tightening lending. As Senator Colm Burke indicated, there now seem to be more deposits than loans. That is a matter of concern.. We are double the European average in this regard. I suppose it is a legacy of the past, when the banks gave out too much money. Now there is the threat of Brexit. It is important, as Senator Colm Burke stated, that we hold a group of people in our minds and allow them to access finance, whether for home improvement or home loans. I refer to that squeezed group that cannot get the financial institutions to loan to them and do not otherwise qualify for loans. I agree that we must do something for them and I-----
The trouble is that there is too much money in the banks and they actually charge now to stop the money going musty, so if-----
It does not happen to me, I assure the Cathaoirleach. He must be doing very well for himself.
A friend of mine told me that it is a waste of time having money in the bank at present because one gets nothing for it.
Was the money, dare I say it, resting in the Cathaoirleach's account?
We will not go down that road now.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of broadband. It is in keeping with the narrative from Sinn Féin that it never wants to tell good news. It really wants to divide and conquer and instil in people this narrative that the world is going to end or that things are not going well.
It is misery.
Correct. Let me inform the House that 1.73 million people have access to broadband, which represents an increase of 2.2%, and 1.43 million, or 87.4% of those, have access to fixed broadband. We are all conscious of the fact that there is a group of people who have poor broadband or no broadband at all. Under the national broadband plan, the Government is committed to delivering broadband, but it is important we understand that there are parts of rural Ireland where the procurement and installation of broadband will raise a significant challenge because of the remoteness of those areas. We cannot deny that. As politicians, we need to stop being populist about everything and instead be real with people.
I would be happy to have Senator Higgins's Bill accepted today. I congratulate her on the matter and look forward to having a debate on it. The Bill, to be fair to the Senator, has much merit. We might not all agree on everything in it, but there is a lot that is positive in the Bill. I hope the Government will support it. I will certainly advocate for it. Again, we have this illusion that the lowest price paid for everything represents the best option when that is not the case. We need to have that conversation as well, and I look forward to a debate in the House in that regard and thank the Senator for raising the matter.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the very important issue of school places for special needs children and young children on the autism spectrum. Students are falling between both parts of the education system, and services need to be improved. I would very much welcome a debate on this and will be happy to facilitate it.
Senators Ó Ríordáin and Craughwell referred to the FAI and corporate governance, if I may use that phrase. I note that the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport met this morning and I think it is now 10 April that Sports Ireland and, subsequently, the FAI will come before the committee. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to have a debate on corporate governance and value for money in sport. I will make one comment to Senator Ó Ríordáin in response to his comment on the withholding of funding. I served on the marketing committee of Croke Park and I was a chairman of my own club and a county board officer. In withholding money, one penalises the grassroots of the FAI, the men and women, the volunteers in particular, and those who work at low-paid-----
I wonder how much of it-----
I am not familiar with that but what I will say is-----
The debate cannot take place today.
It is a bit like boycotting the Eurovision. I am a little worried in this case that one would hinder the work being done in the FAI. However, I think the overarching point being made by Senators Craughwell and Ó Ríordáin is one we all support, that is, that proper answers need to be given to questions that have been asked in the public domain. The committee will have its opportunity to discuss the matter and we can have a debate on sport in this House. I would be happy to do so.
To respond to Senator Mulherin regarding the issue of today's protest by NASRA, the matter needs to be resolved.
It is a source of huge concern and irritation to the men and women who work in the National Ambulance Service. It is important to acknowledge that representations are being made to us by the NASRA. I hope that SIPTU and NASRA can work it out with the HSE. A resolution to this is absolutely needed.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of social media. I am a bit amused by his comments about the Fine Gael Twitter account last weekend. The Senator engages in social media a lot. I am smiling.
I do not put up silly little images of people wagging fingers.
The Leader just wagged his.
If that is the case, Senator Craughwell is a good man to wag the finger without positing images.
All we want is for the Taoiseach to apologise to the people of Ireland.
The Taoiseach has nothing to apologise for.
The Taoiseach did not tweet that himself.
Anybody who knows Deputy Micheál Martin knows that he is a finger-wagging person. Everything is wrong in his eyes, and he is never wrong about anything. That is a fact of life.
He never accepted any responsibility when he was in government. He walked away from the Department of Health and Children. That is the reality.
I could not possibly comment.
Deputy Martin is doing a good job of propping Fine Gael up now, though.
The Leader might call for Deputy Martin to come in and apologise.
It is far more important that we do not allow Deputy Martin to become Taoiseach and go back to the days when Fianna Fáil ruined the country. At least under Deputies Leo Varadkar and Enda Kenny-----
The Leader should take that back. Deputy Micheál Martin would be a very good leader of this country.
Deputy Martin's record in government-----
Senator Buttimer should take back what he said. That is uncalled for.
That is unacceptable. The Senator should take that back.
If this disintegrates into shouting, I will adjourn for 20 minutes. Do Members want that?
Senator Buttimer must take back what he said.
I call on the Leader to be balanced in his remarks. All he is doing is exciting other people. He has attacked three or four different people.
The Leader is putting fuel on the fire.
If there is any more of this, I will adjourn. This is nonsense. I do not want the debate to degenerate into personalities and remarks thrown here and there. Members must be more responsible.
I am not being personal at all. The point I am making is that under the Fianna Fáil Government of which Deputy Martin was a member, our country was ruined. I am sure Senator Murnane O'Connor feels a bit like Bobby Ewing. She has woken up from a bad dream. It was not a bad dream, though. It was reality.
After eight years, the Leader's party must be accountable. We heard about a figure of €3 million today, with people still on trolleys.
People in the House earn less than people like Bobby Ewing.
The Leader should move on.
I will indeed.
That started with a tweet and has now disintegrated into something else.
Senators Colm Burke and Ó Céidigh raised loan deposits in the household sector, currency and deposit assets and loan liabilities. This is an important debate. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it. I know that Senator Burke spoke at UCC last Monday night with Mr. Seamus Coffey.
Yet again Senator Gavan failed to mention the good news story when he presented difficulties. There are challenges in the hospital in University Hospital Limerick. We accept that. Many of them are legacy issues going back to when Fianna Fáil closed the emergency departments of the surrounding hospitals in Limerick. Under this Government-----
If the Leader cannot take responsibility-----
If the Leader did not have Fianna Fáil to talk about in every single response he gives in this House he would have nothing to say, which, upon reflection, might be a welcome development.
Now who is being personal? Senator Gavan failed to recognise that a €2 million 60-bed modular build has commenced. Extra beds have been put in place in the hospital. In addition, we have now seen a design for a block of 96 acute beds.
The Leader must deal with the ward closure.
Again, investment in Limerick-----
Some 17 beds have been closed.
-----in patients and in the health service-----
The Leader should tell that to the people on trolleys.
-----is being made by the Government and the HSE. I accept-----
It is sad that the Leader cannot be accountable for his party's mistakes.
It is an awful pity that the Senator does not listen sometimes.
I am listening to the Leader very closely.
I accept that there are difficulties and challenges. Many of them are legacy issues caused by the people who ruined the country.
Stop. The Leader cannot blame us.
Senator Buttimer's party has been in government for long enough.
Exactly. The Leader must take responsibility.
Senator Warfield raised the important issue of conversion therapy. We all commend him on his Bill, and we commend the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, on working with him and with all of us to ensure that conversion therapy is outlawed in our country. It has no place, it is of no value and, as the Senator said, it leads to difficult health outcomes.
Senator Gallagher mentioned the Valuation Office and the issue of revaluation. He will find commonality with me on this. The office must explain its work. It has been going on since 2001. I checked before I came into the Chamber and found that by last year fewer than two thirds of local authorities had completed their rates evaluation process. The Senator is right. There is an obligation on local authorities and on Valuation Office to work with small and medium enterprises, shopkeepers and retailers to ensure that added pressure is not put on them. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Mullen raised the sensitive and important issue of suicide. He mentioned the efforts being made in Galway and many other parts of the country to work with people and ensure that there is someone to meet or to talk to at key points. In the city of Cork, where I live, street pastors go out to talk and engage at very unusual times of the night, visiting places where people gather and where some have been known to end their lives. It is a very valuable service. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to come to the House to discuss this matter. It is something on which the National Office for Suicide Prevention has been working. The HSE has been very proactive in the matter at both local and national level, but it is something we can never take for granted. We must pursue and advance this issue.
Finally, Senator O'Donnell raised the issue of climate action. We will have a debate on this when the committee report is published. I will also have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment come to the House to discuss reform of the EPA.
I would be very happy to take Senator Higgins' amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1". The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept this amendment.