The Order of Business is No. 1, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 6 p.m., if not previously concluded, and No. 2, Judicial Council Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to adjourn at 8 p.m., if not previously concluded.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I will raise two items today. Vulture funds or investment funds are coming to Ireland and purchasing new homes en bloc. We have learned that 282 properties under construction in Citywest have been put up for sale en masse to appeal to these large funds. This is not the only deal that has been packaged in this way. Last month an investment company snapped up 118 family homes in north County Dublin in a single transaction with a builder. Other jurisdictions, for example New Zealand, have brought in measures to curb foreign investors from coming in and depriving first-time buyers of the chance to purchase affordable homes. Jacinda Ardern's Government banned foreigners from purchasing properties in New Zealand, with the exception of Australians, to make it easier for Kiwis to buy homes and to stop speculative investment. Germany is considering whether landlords with more than 3,000 units should be banned from operating in the cities. These are radical proposals but I believe we have to do something to stop investment funds from coming in and acting in this way. They are depriving young couples and young families of the opportunity to purchase homes. It is a relatively recent phenomenon.
The second issue I wish to raise is the fact that today is Autism Awareness Day. Autism affects one in every 65 people in Ireland. It is not a disease, and it cannot be cured. I would like to put on record my support for the Dublin 12 campaign for autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes and inclusion. There is a serious lack of services for our children and adults with autism in Dublin 12. I am working with one mother of a non-verbal seven year old who is trying to get her child into a full-time school placement. She has been doing this despite making many appeals to the Department of Education and Skills, in which she has been successful. However, there is still no place available for this child. She is one of many mothers in Dublin 12 who is fighting for a place for her child in a school with an ASD unit or in a special needs-type school. There is a serious lack of placements for children with autism in the Dublin 12 catchment area. Today, along with my colleague, Senator Devine, I joined the Dublin 12 group in Crumlin village in an effort to create awareness of the group and the absolute lack of placements and facilities for these children. I ask that the Minister for Health would meet this group to discuss the lack of services, an ASD unit and a special school for children in Dublin 12.
On Sunday afternoon, while listening to the news, the plight of our local authority members came to the fore once again.
I make no apology for representing their needs in this House. After all, they are our electorate and it is only right and proper that we would represent them.
Since 2014, when I first mentioned the terms and conditions of employment for county councillors in this country, they have had promise after promise of improved conditions. They have an allowance, which is now regarded as income. They are paying tax and PRSI on an allowance, which baffles me to some degree. It took a High Court action to force the Government into changing the class of PRSI that applies to local authority representatives and incidentally, I am sorry to the heart that I did not push the same High Court case the whole way to cover Members of this House in order that we would not be paying class K PRSI, for it is absolutely criminal to be taking 4% of our income off us with no benefit whatsoever to accrue to anybody in this House. That is just wrong in every sense of the word.
We are finding ourselves that some 20% of our local authority members will not run for re-election. We are losing young, innovative and highly motivated people, purely because of the amount of work that is involved in the job and their inability to see themselves properly rewarded for the amount of time and effort they put into their jobs. It is absolutely disgraceful that we are coming into the next election and they do not have their terms and conditions properly set out so that they know what they are signing up for. We are seeing a lot of senior county councillors, people who have served this country for ten, 20 or 30 years, who are walking away as well. I know I am not alone in this House when I represent their views. I know every Member that is elected by members of local authorities feels the same way. It is just wrong.
On a second issue, I see that we are now deferring the local property tax for another year. This is the most cynical move I have ever seen.
It should be got rid of altogether.
It should be got rid of. I totally agree with the Senator but leaving that aside, deferring it for a year in order to get us over the European and local------
That is cynical. That is where it got us.
Forgive me. The Leader needs to say-----
It is wrong. It is rack-renting by the Government. That is all it is.
Allow Senator Craughwell to proceed.
That is fat coming from Fine Gael.
Do not have a side conversation. Senator Craughwell is speaking on it and the Leader has ample time to respond later.
Cynical moves such as deferring property tax until we get over the European and local elections are disgraceful.
I understand that the Government is about to engage in some sort of a roadshow around the country on local authorities and the like and even though some are questioning its constitutionality, we have directly-elected mayors coming down the line. This is all pretty cynical stuff coming into a local election and is not fooling anybody.
If the Leader wants to pray, this is not the place to do it-----
God is everywhere.
-----but at the end of the day-----
Senator Craughwell is endeavouring to conclude, if he is allowed.
At the end of the day, the public deserve a little bit more recognition of their intelligence to figure out what is going on. Once again, I would ask-----
I thought the Senator was speaking for the councillors, not the public.
I know that Senator Paddy Burke would be supporting-----
Could the Senator hold off on that one please?
Senator Paddy Burke will be on his feet in a few minutes to support me in what I say and fair play to him for that. At the end of the day-----
The Senator has been defending them for years.
-----we have a responsibility to those who we serve so let us try to do something before the local elections.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, I was waiting there for ages. I wish to echo the sentiments of Senator Ardagh when she referred to Prime Minister Ardern. She is one strong woman. She has shown the world that it is possible to react urgently to the needs of people, in this case with the gun safety in her country because her paramount position and job description is to protect the people of the nation. She is one strong woman and I am very proud that she is leading the way.
I wanted to bring up a few matters. First, we need a debate on vaccines throughout the world. We know they are in decline and the herd immunisation has also declined and therefore we have seen the alarming rise of what we thought we had eradicated, namely, measles and mumps.
Measles and mumps are present in this country. South Dublin has a particular problem with schools being closed, etc. We saw authorities in New York closing crèches and schools to children who are not vaccinated. I am pro-vaccination and pro-science and I will stand over that, but I simply do not know or have not thought enough about what we do for children who are not vaccinated. Do we go down that road? Is that unconstitutional? A debate on that would be very much welcomed and is really needed. We need to stick with science and with how we manage illnesses when they arise. We must keep the herd protection that is so badly needed.
Another point I wanted to bring up relates to the Psychiatric Nurses Association. The ambulance personnel are again out today, in particular those from the depot on Davitt Road. They are looking to next week again and are reconsidering 24-hour stoppages. At the moment there are 12-hour strikes.
They are my colleagues and I suppose I have a bias and a particular interest, but the HSE is refusing to deduct their union subscriptions. The HSE is refusing to engage or negotiate and is ignoring them. A hefty amount of PNA ambulance personnel are part of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association. Like me, they want the Minister to end this now and to instruct the HSE to sit down under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission to engage and sort this out. Everyone deserves and is entitled to the right to join a union or trade representative of his or her choice.
The third thing I wish to discuss - Senator Ardagh has raised this as well – is the Dublin 12 parent support group in Crumlin. We decided to use today, Autism Awareness Day, to raise awareness in the village of Crumlin because places, classes and units there for children are non-existent. The waiting lists are waiting lists of years, and that is too late for the children. I have been to many of the meetings and I see new parents arriving all the time. They are looking for support but they leave in shock, unfortunately. I try to ease them into it gently but they do not realise the dearth of education classes that should be there. The resounding vocal words this morning were "Educate, do not discriminate." Five year olds are being offered places but they have to be put on a bus. They have to manage and navigate the journey on their own to Maynooth and back again in a day. That is simply not feasible. Parents are resorting to home tuition, which is approximately an hour to two hours each week. Isolation and alienation are not the way to be inclusive in our communities. I tabled a Commencement motion this morning and I hope the Minister will take forward my views, fast-track more units and enable and instruct schools to open those units.
I am pleased to see the Judicial Council Bill back before this House on Committee Stage today. I note that it is more than 16 months since we took the Bill on Second Stage on 22 November 2017. It is unfortunate that we have seen such a long delay at a time when there has been such unseemly haste to rush the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill through. I am also disappointed that we saw at such late notice, and after our leaders meeting last week, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill reappearing on this week's schedule on Thursday afternoon. I know that is for another day but I want to put the point on the record.
Might we make provision over the coming week or so for a debate on Brexit? I know we have had many opportunities to do so but clearly the issue is changing daily. More and more depressing news comes from Britain. We are seeing, apparently, a catastrophic cliff-edge approach being taken in Westminster with the prospect of a no-deal scenario becoming more likely. Those of us watching it from this jurisdiction feel immense and increasing helplessness. We wish we could do something to avert the course of these votes that are constantly against any prospective resolution. It was particularly frustrating to see such narrow margins last night in the House of Commons votes. I know this point has been made elsewhere by other legislators and Members of the Oireachtas, but it is shocking that we have a party in this jurisdiction that holds seven seats in Westminster. It could have made a major difference and would have enabled the passage of the Ken Clarke amendment that would see Britain stay within a customs union. It was lost by three votes last night.
I know Sinn Féin has its own reasons but if there was ever a time to leave that aside in the face of an existential crisis for this country and for those living in Northern Ireland as well as for our neighbours in Britain, if there was ever a time to take up seats, it would make such a significant difference. Nobody could suggest it would not.
It was only two votes.
Senator Norris is right, it was two votes. No one can say it would not have made a difference. No one can say that if people had been there to represent voices from Northern Ireland that are not being heard at Westminster at present, it might not have made all the difference to those in the Labour Party, my own sister party, who are shamefully failing to achieve a compromise to stop a no-deal Brexit from happening. We are on a cliff edge with this. It is devastating to see our nearest neighbours in such a catastrophic state. That there are people who could have done something and did not will be seen as really terrible in times to come.
I commend Mary McAleese for her comments on Friday. I was privileged to chair an event at which she spoke on Friday evening at the Law Society in Blackhall Place for the Hibernian Law Journal. She spoke so powerfully and movingly of her experience growing up in Belfast in the Ardoyne and her fears for the return of a hard border. No one listening to that could fail to be moved or to wish to do anything possible to avert the no-deal catastrophe that is so chillingly coming our way.
Today marks 100 years since the appointment of Constance Markievicz as Minister for Labour. She was the first woman Minister in our Government and in any western European country. Although her appointment was historic and must be commemorated today, unfortunately it took another 60 years before a second woman was appointed to Cabinet. That was Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1979. In 2019, we still have only ever had 19 individual woman serve as Cabinet Ministers. I am using today to call upon the Government to do more to promote the achievements and successes of women in politics, to encourage more women to enter and participate in politics and to commit to including more women in Cabinet. They could have done so this time but the Government did not. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, chose not to appoint more women to Cabinet. In marking the centenary of Countess Markievicz's achievement, it would be well worth seeking to ensure we have more women in Government positions in future.
I rise to mark World Autism Day. It is also Autism Awareness Week. I attended a coffee morning this morning with Dóchas in Limerick. I met many children and their families. There was a talk going on and it was a really interesting morning. It was great to get an insight and to hear first-hand from families and from a campaigner who has been 14 years fighting for children with autism and special needs. It really was a very informative morning. While some people know some of the issues facing some of the children and their families, it is very important to go out and engage with people and get first-hand experience.
The Minister of State with responsibility for local government published the plans for the proposed directly elected mayors. Nobody is forcing anything on anybody. It is going to be a plebiscite held in Cork, Limerick city and county, and Waterford city and county. It is very important that clear information be sent out to people. As a former Mayor of Limerick I am a big supporter of the idea. I think it is the right way to go. When we look at other European countries, they have leaders, but it is very important that we get this right if we are to get the information out there. As well as a leaflet going out to all the voters, it is important for the Department to hold public information meetings where people will have the opportunity to have their questions answered. Several people have contacted me with questions and reservations. We have to put clear information out there. Sometimes things do not go through. It is really important to have a clear message and to give all the necessary information to those who have the right to vote on 24 May in the plebiscite on directly elected mayors.
I have been contacted by many people in the last few days from counties Cavan and Monaghan in respect of a new charge being introduced for elderly people and those with disabilities availing of facilities laid on by the HSE.
The charge is €4 per day return journey to and from the HSE service. While people are not totally against the service per se, they have serious concerns about the lack of consultation and believe this was basically foisted upon them without any debate or forewarning. The measure, unfortunately, will affect the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society, many of whom look forward to attending these services in their local facilities daily. While I say they are not totally against this, they are disappointed that no consultation has taken place. Some of the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities, will find that €4 per day to be a financial burden. The last thing we want is that these people would not be in a financial position to attend the services.
I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister to see if a measure could be introduced to help the most vulnerable and those suffering financial hardship so they are free to attend the services as they do currently.
We are deeply frustrated at events in Westminster. Today, we have got great solidarity from Emmanuel Macron, who said he will never abandon Ireland or the Irish people, no matter what happens. This sends out a powerful signal to Brexiteers who think Europe will be divided. The Taoiseach rightly said that we are open to a credible plan from Westminster that has a clear purpose. The next few days will tell a story of where we are going but it is very concerning that the UK Parliament still has not taken control of an extremely difficult situation, which has caused huge confusion and unnecessary work and commitment over the last two and a half years. I hope that comes to fruition.
Last year, we had a very eventful moment in Clones when the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, attended the Ulster final between Fermanagh and Donegal. I felt that was a momentous event. It was well appreciated by the crowd and sent out a signal that times are changing. There is a soccer club in Fermanagh, Ballinamallard United, which plays in the Irish league and is located only a few miles north of Enniskillen. The club has got to its first cup final in 138 years, which will be played in Windsor Park against Crusaders. This could be another wonderful moment for people from a nationalist point of view, in that we could attend and show our solidarity. I live in Sligo and know Ballinamallard United is a very close friend of Sligo Rovers. Indeed, Tom Elliot, who was the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and was an Ulster Unionist MP, is chairman of Ballinamallard United. We should send out our good regards to our near neighbours for that cup final, which takes place in early May. There could be a huge opportunity for people to show their solidarity with a small club in Northern Ireland.
Although it is not a debate Members are having here, a previous speaker suggested nobody could say Sinn Féin votes would not have made a difference last night in Westminster. Nobody could say that Sinn Féin has a mandate to take our seats in Westminster.
Once elected, they represent all in their constituencies.
Unlike the Irish Labour Party, Sinn Féin will not make promises we cannot keep and we will keep every commitment that we make.
This is too serious for cheap shots.
Students are some of the hardest hit by the rental crisis. Many students are staying in hostel dormitory rooms for whole semesters as a result of limited accommodation options. Low incomes combined with the need for eight to nine-month leases are restricting their options in the rental market.
Some 2,876 bed spaces of purpose-built student accommodation were opened in Dublin city in 2018, almost all of which provide luxury accommodation and cater for international students. Prices range from €250 to €410 a week. It does not just have a knock-on effect on rents in the local area, it also provides political cover for the Government which is failing to provide affordable options and uses the new build figures as a sign that it is addressing targets. I fear that the inaction to provide affordable rental options for students has started to restrict access to third level education for those who need to rent, particularly in Dublin. The Government is continuously delaying in bringing purpose-built student accommodation within rent pressure zone legislation. Students have been faced with huge rent hikes, particularly in Dublin and Galway. They are to be combined with a student contribution charge of €3,000, the second highest in Europe. Students are feeling serious financial pressure. I, therefore, ask the Leader when the Seanad will next hear statements on housing. Will he inform the Minister of the need to discuss in that debate the issue of student accommodation, particularly luxury student accommodation?
On Brexit, I am increasingly tired of listening to people like Mr. Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP, talk about the 17 million people who voted to leave. What about the 16.3 million who voted to remain? Have they no rights whatsoever? I also point out that the United Kingdom has a population of 67 million; therefore, the figure of 17 million is not as impressive as it sounds. Furthermore, it is being said it would be undemocratic to have a second referendum. Those who say it do not seem to have any problem whatsoever with Prime Minister May putting her ratbag of notions about the European Union to a vote for the fourth time within a couple of weeks. There is, apparently, nothing undemocratic about it, but having a second referendum to take the temperature of the people is undemocratic.
Moreover, I agree with Senator Ardagh about cuckoo funds and certainly think we should take action. I am delighted that Germany is doing so. It is outrageous that foreign investment companies come here to buy up enormous blocks and prevent young people from getting a foot on the property ladder. I also strongly support the No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019 brought forward by Sinn Féin. It is excellent and, of course, it should be done. Foreign vulture funds come here to buy up enormous numbers of debts from the banks that were saved by the ordinary people of Ireland after their disgraceful behaviour, in which they are still engaged. We are now allowing the people to be treated like slaves. Their homes are being sold over their heads. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the wonderful Irish Republic, by which we stand and in which we see these things happening without much by the way of protest.
As noted by other speakers, this is World Autism Day. It is now 21 months since this House unanimously passed a Bill dealing with the need for a national autism strategy. To say we are disappointed that there has been no movement on the Bill and that I fail to understand why it has not reached Dáil Éireann is an understatement. Many people suffer as a consequence of the condition and their families struggle bravely to help to bring their children into the world in a meaningful way. They struggle with communication and the behavioural issues that stem from it. Last week I was delighted to attend the opening of a fine new facility by Remember Us in Balbriggan last. The group provides a home not just for children with autism but also for those with any disability. I commend Ms Jean Fitzpatrick and Ms Nora Roban who are the main forces on the committee. I refer also to Snowflakes Autism Support in Swords which provides great services, the Irish Society for Autism and many others. We need a national strategy for people with autism.
We have a national strategy for dementia and we had a national strategy for cardiovascular disease. We have had many strategies and I fail to see why we cannot have one for one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. This is available in England, Wales, Scotland, France, Canada and many other places. Sinn Féin has a motion in the Dáil tonight and I commend the party for it but I would like the Minister to come in and explain to us why he cannot bring a Bill which was passed by this Chamber to Dáil Éireann.
The Leader to respond.
The Cathaoirleach has caught me unawares.
I wanted to raise a point.
I would keep going but, out of respect for my colleague, I will not.
Senators must be very clear about this. I looked at the Senator, and around the House, about five times and nobody raised their hand.
I was in a committee meeting
The Senator should be here every day for the Order of Business.
I am a committee member and I was at a meeting. We all attend other meetings. Last week, figures for homelessness rose above the 10,000 mark. According to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, 6,480 adults and 3,784 children were living in emergency accommodation in February. These figures included 1,707 families. The Minister said he was disappointed but disappointment is when something happens outside a person's control and it is not an appropriate response to what is an incredible rise in figures. The Minister should be mad and outraged and he should be finding solutions.
Rebuilding Ireland is not working, something I see in my own area of Carlow where homelessness is on the rise. Day in and day out, my heart breaks when I have another poor soul come to my office, broken, in tears and overwhelmed with disappointment because he or she has been passed over for a social house. I cannot tell such people why they were passed over because I do not know. There is no clear system for the public to know why or when a person will get their social house. When there is no system, there is no hope.
Last month, the United Nations condemned Ireland for what it called the financialisation of housing, accusing this Government of allowing multinational vulture funds to force tenants out of their own homes and to manipulate the market by buying up massive amounts of property at low cost and flipping them or charging hugely inflated rents. The report highlighted preferential tax laws and the weak tenant protections in our country, which I have raised in the Seanad and at committee meetings. On Monday, a Social Justice Ireland report stated that over 6,000 Irish people are living in substandard accommodation, which is unacceptable.
I ask the Leader to detail to this House what his response was to the letter he received from Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur, on the right to adequate housing. We were one of five countries to receive this letter and I understand she did not hold back on her criticism. I agree with her that we have no monitoring and no accountability mechanism. There is no transparency and no system to understand. In the end, the Government is failing.
I have already called on the Leader to respond. If anybody else wants to speak they should be here. I will reluctantly allow Senators Mullen, Conway-Walsh and Colm Burke to speak very briefly.
Is mór liom gur thug an Cathaoirleach an deis seo dom, go háirithe toisc go bhfuil ceist tábhachtach le plé agam inniu. Many of us have had New Zealand in our minds recently because of the appalling outrage of the murder of 50 people at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. It is appropriate to remember Ireland's affinity with New Zealand, on account of the emigration of our people to that country and similarities between the two countries in agriculture and the food industry. I learned recently that there are 600,000 people of Irish ancestry in that country, with 18,000 relocating from Ireland between 2011 and 2015 during the worst of the recession.
Perhaps because of that close affinity, I felt all the more shocked to hear of the case of an Irish family, the Suhinthan family, and its experience with the New Zealand authorities. Their mother, Nilani, is an IT consultant and the father a computer engineer. Unfortunately for Ireland, Nilani was headhunted for a high-paying job in New Zealand and the family decided to move there, as was their right.
She moved to Auckland in September on an interim visa and the intention was that the rest of the family would follow later. Preparing for that move has cost them approximately €15,000 to date. The New Zealand authorities issued residency permits to her, her husband and two of her three daughters but they were refused a permit for their third daughter, Bumikka, who is 15. Shockingly, the reason for this seems to be that she has Down's syndrome. As a result, the New Zealand authorities have told the family that she does not have "an acceptable standard of health" and that this would place demands on the health and education systems there. The family have made it clear that they do not expect the New Zealand state to fund any special health treatment or educational supports for their daughter and they have offered to fund that themselves but their appeal was refused in recent days and they are now in limbo with their family separated.
I accept, and I am sure the Leader would agree, that each country has the right to regulate its own immigration laws as it sees fit but, on the other hand, this is a situation where we have to ask what it says about a society that would welcome a highly-skilled couple with open arms and two of that couple's daughters but turn away their third daughter purely because she has Down's syndrome.
The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in her speech at the Christchurch commemoration recently, stated:
Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. Assaults on faith and religion are not welcome here. Extremism in all its forms is not welcome here.
Listening to her speak and learning of the Suhinthan family's case, I am wondering if she could have added, "A child with Down's syndrome is not welcome here".
Does the Leader agree that the turning away of an Irish child from the borders of a country on such grounds is truly reprehensible and is not reflective of a tolerant society, if that is the reason? Can we have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the House to see whether the Government has examined this issue closely and whether it has anything to say or do in what must be a very upsetting situation for the Suhinthan family?
That is the information I have based on the facts as best I know them and have received them. It is a truly disturbing situation if it is as I have said. I would be delighted to be reassured if there is any positive development in that case or if I have misunderstood any aspect of it but, sadly, on the basis of all the reports I have read, I do not believe that I have. It is a disturbing situation.
In dealing with the housing issue one of the factors that has not been dealt with is the number of vacant houses. I was in an area in recent days where I was told by residents that a three bedroom semi-detached house has been vacant for seven years. The owner owns of a number of other properties and it is now not profitable for that person to let the house. I do not understand the reason for that but that person is not paying any additional tax by leaving the house vacant. At the same time, he or she is not losing any money because the value continues to increase. The issue of how we deal with vacant properties needs to be examined. Some properties are vacant for genuine reasons - people may be in nursing homes or whatever - but in respect of a large number of them, people are waiting for property prices to rise.
Allowing companies to come in and buy large lots of apartments needs to change. That policy needs to be examined because at the time of the change of Government in 2011 personal borrowing amounted to more than €200 billion. That figure is now down to €150 billion. In fact, the amount of personal savings exceeds the amount of personal borrowing. There is no excuse for allowing large companies to have a free-for-all in respect of acquiring properties because they can outbid everyone else. That should be looked at with a view to a change in the regulation and in the legislation.
I keep making the point that there is a cohort of people who do not qualify for local authority loans or to borrow from banks and who will continue to have to rent. They need security of tenure and the only way of doing that is to create a system of 20-year leases, with a five-year rent review and the tenants being responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the apartment or the house. We need to move on that and it is something we should examine.
I welcome the decision by Clúid and Cork City Council to buy 75 completed apartments in the past week.
It is a welcome development on Bachelor's Quay in Cork city. It was a good decision by Clúid Housing, Cork City Council, and the Minister and the Department to provide the funding for that project to go ahead, and I hope that all the properties will be occupied within the next three months. It would be welcome to have a debate to deal with a number of issues that have been raised in a constructive manner rather than engaging in the blame game that often takes place in the House.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach allowing me to contribute, given that I was delayed at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, where we were carrying out scrutiny of the No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019 and trying to convince the Central Bank and the Department of Finance that mortgage holders need to be protected and that our economy and society need to be protected from vulture funds.
I commend the East Mayo Anglers' Association and Inland Fisheries Ireland on the wonderful facility that has been developed on the River Moy to allow people with disabilities to access the river and use it for fishing. I visited it last Friday and I encourage all Senators to do likewise if they are in County Mayo because it is a model of excellence, inclusion and everything else for such facilities. It has done an excellent job, on which I commend the committee and everyone involved.
Given that it is World Autism Day, I commend my colleagues, Deputies Funchion and Ó Caoláin, for the work they have done on the motion that will come before the Dáil tonight, and I thank all the families, particularly those in County Mayo, who contributed to making the motion what it is. I ask all colleagues to support its call for an all-party Oireachtas committee on autism to be set up in the immediate term and for the committee to be tasked with developing and publishing a comprehensive autism empowerment strategy within six months. It also calls for the committee to be mandated to hear directly from autistic people and their families. While I acknowledge Senator Reilly's Bill, which needs to be progressed through the Houses, without an autism strategy we will not tackle the issue of autism in the way in we need to.
On my own behalf and on behalf of the House, I pay tribute to our former colleague and friend, John Browne, former Member of the Dáil and the Seanad, who passed away last week. John was a sincere, genuine and committed Oireachtas Member who gave Trojan service to the people of County Carlow and in the Houses. On my own behalf and on behalf of Fine Gael, I express our sympathies to his family. His son, Fergal, is a former Senator and I will pay tribute to him in due course. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I thank the 13 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Colm Burke and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of vulture funds and the appearance by officials from the Department of Finance at today's meeting of the finance committee. I note that Senator Conway-Walsh did not refer to the contributions of Mario Draghi or Professor Lane in respect of the Sinn Féin Bill, which would incur a cost for mortgage holders due to higher mortgage costs and the higher mortgage interest that would accrue. I am sure we all would agree with the sentiments expressed about vulture funds, the need to keep people in their homes, and the number of people who are able to remain in and buy property. As Senator Colm Burke noted, we need to reduce the volume of borrowing. Deposits in banks are currently greater than borrowings, and it is important that we consider long-term leasing, such as for terms of 20 years, which is common in other countries, as Senator Colm Burke has previously outlined. I would be happy if that debate was taken in the House.
The words of Professor Lane in respect of the Bill before the committee that Senator Conway-Walsh mentioned are important. The Bill would serve little purpose and undermine the banking system, for all its faults.
It has become a major source of worry for all of us. We must listen to what Mr. Draghi said about the costs and selling on performing loans, but I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter.
Senators Ardagh, Devine, Reilly and Conway-Walsh raised the important matter of World Autism Day which is part of our national autism week. It is disappointing that the Bill proposed by Senator Reilly has not come back to the House. It is about having a national strategy and ensuring we join the dots to have a whole-of-Government, interdepartmental approach to autism that places children and adults with autism front and centre. The Bill proposed by Senator Reilly is reasonable and far-reaching and it seeks to place an onus on Government to engage on a cross-departmental basis and revert. Equally, the Sinn Féin Party has a Dáil motion tonight on which we all agree. To be fair, Senator Reilly has been the forerunner, first as Minister and now in the House. It is unacceptable that there has been an inordinate delay in the current Minister coming back with a response. I would be happy to have him come to the House to discuss the matter with us. During this autism awareness week, it is important to understand that we have not completed the jigsaw regarding the provision of services and supports for people with autism and their families. That includes respite and other services. I am as disappointed and as critical as other Members on some of the lack of action by Government. I commend the D12 campaign for its proactivity in the matter.
Senator Craughwell raised a number of issues in his earnest and interesting contribution. There is no rush by any local authority to increase property tax rates in tandem with Government.
I hope not.
As we heard today in the Chamber, there are some who do not want to pay for anything at all. I finished a book at the weekend on Cork in the 1980s. It included an interesting piece on an advisor to Jack Lynch who warned him against the abolition of rates in 1977. Look at what happened as a consequence. We have a responsibility to pay for services and cannot just be populist about everything.
Should the Government not say before the election what we will be paying?
If the Government did that, Senator Craughwell and his colleagues would come here every day shouting and roaring from the rooftops about whatever happened around the issue of property tax.
They would accuse the Government of being draconian, Dickensian and whatever else they wanted. It is important to put matters in perspective. The Minister for Finance is undertaking a process. Let us allow that process to conclude.
The Senator raised also the issue of pay for councillors and their services. I agree with him fully and it is not because we are on the same panel and are trying to look after our constituents as Members of this House; on the contrary. Local government is a very important part of our democracy and I have always made the point that councillors should be full time and paid a proper salary. The Moorhead review is imminent, albeit I am not sure it will be published before or after the local elections. It will address the issues of pay, conditions and supports for councillors. I agree with Senator Craughwell that issues of pay and their power are very frustrating for councillors at local government level. Their role has expanded with the introduction of municipal districts in some cases and bigger, longer and wider electoral areas. It is a matter we need to address. I have just returned from Kiev where the presidential election took place at the weekend. Strangely enough, the one thing people over there did not mind doing was paying for their democracy and putting local and central government supports in place. It is something we need a stronger voice on in the Oireachtas. We can all go down the road of populism with regard to pay and conditions, but it is important to pay councillors a just and fair salary and to get rid of the caper of running around the country to attend conferences and whatever.
The other point made by Senators Craughwell and Byrne is that I welcome the publication today by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, on directly elected mayors with executive functions. It is important we support the plebiscite to give for the first time in this country directly elected mayors an opportunity to stand for office. It is an innovative and transformative potential for local government. I look forward to having the debate in this Chamber but also across the designated cities that are going to have mayors. I am aware that Senator Byrne has been very forceful and strong in Limerick. It is important and incumbent upon Government to travel to the cities in question, to have public meetings and information campaigns in the cities of Cork, Galway, Waterford or Limerick to inform people of the potential benefit accruing to a city from directly elected mayors. I apologise, as Galway is not on this list.
Senator Devine also raised the issue of vaccination. It is important that we remember Laura Brennan who was a champion.
I concur completely with the Senator on this issue. I am a very strong advocate of vaccination. As former Chairman of the health committee, I saw the benefit that arises from vaccination. I agree with the Senator that we need to have a strong advocacy campaign and I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House on this issue. I also agree with the Senator, strangely enough-----
-----that we should have an end-----
The Leader will ruin the Senator's credibility.
-----to the ongoing dispute between SIPTU and National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA. Let us have union representation for members of the ambulance service who want to join NASRA. Let them have membership of that union so that there can be dealings with both unions. I do not see any issue with that. I support the need for members to be involved and to have participation in a union. It is equally incumbent on the HSE to engage with NASRA and end this back-and-forth for once and for all.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. I apologise to the House that it may be discommoded on Thursday. It is a matter for the House to decide its business, as Senator Boyhan would say if he were here. When the Minister becomes available, we will schedule this Bill. The information came to us on Friday. I put this Bill on the schedule, and it is up to Members to accept the Order of Business or not. I appreciate that there are people who have a view on this Bill.
The Judicial Council Bill is a priority for the Minister. It has taken a length of time to get to where we are today. In that time a great amount of engagement has been ongoing between the Judiciary, with regard to proposed amendments to legislation, with the Office of the Attorney General, and with the Department of Justice and Equality, which has resulted in the Bill coming back to us today with a number of amendments to it. It is also important that we recognise that it is legislation the Government wants to prioritise. Many of the amendments relate to the provision of sentencing guidelines, the need for which was referenced in the Second Stage debate here in the Seanad.
It is my intention as Leader of the House to have the Bill come before the House today and, if it is not finished tonight, to have it back next week and to devote as much time as we can to it on behalf of the Government. I would be happy to work with the Senator in this regard. I understand the frustration that Members have on Bills not coming back. Sometimes some of the Bills - I am not saying this one - are unconstitutional or flawed and need to be fixed, but I take the point the Senator has made.
Today it is a significant day to remember and recognise Countess Markievicz and we congratulate all women who serve in the Oireachtas and as Ministers. Senator Bacik is correct in that there are far too many women who have been appointed as Cabinet Ministers-----
I beg the Senator's pardon, "too few" I should have said. Gabh mo leithscéal. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip.
To be fair, if one looks at the record of many of the women who have served in Cabinet, they have been powerfully strong, reforming and innovative women who brought gargantuan changes to the Departments in which they served. On a more positive note I am sure that Senator Bacik will join with me in welcoming and congratulating my party, which has the highest level in the history of the State of women ever running for local government election-----
I am delighted to hear that.
There are 115, which is almost 30%. We are not quite there yet but we are close to it and we are way ahead of any other political party. Senators will be glad to know that the Fine Gael Party, of which I am a Member, has more women running than ever before for European Parliament elections, with Mairead McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Deirdre Clune and Frances Fitzgerald, four strong, capable, qualified women. I do not agree with the Senator regarding the women in Fine Gael who are Ministers. A considerable number of women are both Ministers and Ministers of State and play a very strong role.
I did not disagree. I said there were not enough of them.
In this House, we have a very capable Whip who runs the show efficiently, professionally and with great integrity. I agree with the Senator that we must encourage and advocate for more women to be involved in politics and to be elevated to higher office. I support that completely.
I am not familiar with the matters raised by Senator Gallagher regarding Cavan-Monaghan. It may be more expeditious to table a Commencement matter because I do not have the information to hand.
I join Senator Feighan and other Members on the issue of Brexit and the frustration relating to it. Senator Bacik also raised it. It is a worrying and deeply frustrating time. We are lucky that, today, our Taoiseach is in Paris where he has met President Macron, who has again committed to standing with Ireland and to not abandoning the Irish people. The Taoiseach's remarks were very interesting when he said that Europe should be open to a credible solution and proposals from Prime Minister May. I hope that the British Government will realise that there is no good Brexit and that a hard Brexit will be catastrophic for Ireland, England and the European Union. I also join Senator Feighan in wishing Ballinamallard every success in the cup final.
Senator Warfield raised the important issue of student accommodation. I think he referred to a report that was published.
It was published yesterday.
Between 2009 and 2019, 6,060 designated bed spaces were built for students in 22 projects in the country. Last year, in Dublin, 2,039 accommodation spaces for students were made available, with 810 in Cork. This year so far, planning permission has been awarded for 2,216, with 1,787 in Dublin and 419 in Cork.
They are all luxury.
I do not think they are all luxury. If Senator Warfield travelled to any of the places I just mentioned where there was a need for student accommodation, local communities, families and students welcomed student accommodation and want to see it. I accept that there is a need to look at the price and cost and to have the Minister come to the House to address the matter. Let us welcome the fact that we are building accommodation for students.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the homeless figures. The Minister will come to the House to debate the matter. I will not get into a political debate with the Senator on it because we all accept that there is more to be done. Again, Senator Murnane O'Connor fails to recognise the highest ever housing budget, with more people leaving homelessness than going into it. It is important to recognise that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State at the same Department, Deputy English, have travelled the country and met local authorities. They have increased the rate of home building and put in place the highest ever housing budget. I have heard no proposals from Senator Murnane O'Connor about what she would do if she was the Minister, other than to come in and give out.
I have given the Minister many recommendations and they have not listened to one.
The Senator has not said anything in this House.
They are not listening to the ordinary people. That is why we are where we are.
We are all ordinary people.
The Minister is not listening. I raise solutions at our meetings every week and he just does not listen.
I have never heard the Senator say anything in here.
I give them to the Minister and he does not listen.
The Leader is listening and he will go back to the Minister.
I join Senator Colm Burke in congratulating Clúid and Cork City Council on the acquisition of the apartments, which is a very positive move.
Senator Mullen raised an interesting and deeply personal issue relating to a family whose name I cannot pronounce, for which I apologise. It was in the news last December. I agree with the Senator that it seems very insensitive of the New Zealand Government to turn away people because of disability, but as the Senator knows, it has an A4.10 form which stipulates very strict protocols about entry into New Zealand. It has strong rules and regulations regarding immigration.
That country has very strong rules and regulations for immigration. One of the questions on that form deals with the issue of imposing significant costs to New Zealand's health system. I do not agree with them, by the way, in the same way that I completely disagree with the Senator's comments last week here about conversion therapy, for which he should apologise to the House.
No. I called for an evidence base for all legislation. It is unprofessional for the Leader.
No. It is not.
It reflects very badly on the Leader when I raise a serious personal issue about a vulnerable family that he should try to have a cheap shot and misrepresent what I said.
Please, Senator Mullen-----
If this is the standard, we are in trouble.
We are in trouble if that is the case because the Senator is really------
The Leader should deal with my issue and not misrepresent what I said last week.
The Leader please, without interruption.
I am entitled to reply to the Order of Business as I see fit. I will not take lectures from the Senator on anything. His comments here last week were a disgrace and he should be ashamed of himself.
You have to be ashamed of yourself. What is your problem with-----
Please respect the Chair.
Sorry, a Chathaoirligh.
The Leader should stop misrepresenting what I said last week. He should be ashamed of himself.
Last week's Order of Business should not be revisited.
Absolutely, and misrepresented what is more.
The Senator should reflect on his position on conversion therapy.
The Leader should read what I said-----
----- instead of coming in here half-cocked.
Can we move on from here, please.
The Senator should reflect on his position on conversion therapy.
The Leader should read-----
He should reflect on that strongly.
The Leader knows exactly what I said about getting the space to do what was necessary.
I do not want last week's Order of Business-----
He should stop misrepresenting my comments. He is as bad as the worst elements of social media when he behaves like that.
Please, move on.
It is an astonishing performance by the Leader.
Last week's Order of Business should not-----
There is no end to which the Senator will not go.
It is an astonishing performance by the Leader. He is worse than the twitteratti.
I would not respond to him in that request.
He is worse than the twitteratti with that kind of tabloid response-----
The Leader is anxious to conclude.
I am anxious to conclude.
----- to a reflective contribution last week.
The Senator's contribution on that was not reflective at all.
It certainly was and the Leader should read it before he comes in blasting and bluffing.
I did read the transcript.
It is a disgrace-----
It is a bit like the Senator.
----- for the Leader of the House.
I read the transcript.
Then I have to ask about his ability to read.
The Senator can do all that.
The Leader has completely misrepresented what I said.
He can do all that.
Can we conclude today's Order of Business?
We can indeed. I will conclude by saying this.
May I have an answer to whether the Minister will-----
I gave the Senator the answer.
----- come in to discuss the Indian family.
I gave the Senator the answer, if he listened to what I said. I said I agree with him and do not agree with the New Zealand position.
Yes. Can I ask if the Minister is coming in?
The Senator should do the courtesy of letting me finish.
I would be delighted, if the Leader would not deviate.
The Senator is a bit like-----
He changed the subject.
The Senator is a bit like Lanigan's ball - he steps in and he steps out.
Would the Leader mind answering my question with-----
Please respect the Chair. I do not want an argument on the floor between the Leader and another Senator. They must speak through the Chair.
As Senator Mullen knows better than I do, the issue he referenced in the House today is a matter for the New Zealand immigration authority. It has very strict guidelines with which I do not agree. He might be best served by tabling a Commencement matter to get a more expeditious response from the Minister. I would be happy to engage with the Minister. If the Senator gives me the details, I would be happy to take them to the Minister.
I thank the Leader.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the east Mayo angling. I commend them on that also.