An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector), back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, statements on progress regarding the implementation of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities 2015-2024, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, statements on the national broadband plan, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude after one and a half hours with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate.

With the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach, I welcome the students and pupils from Knockbridge, Dundalk, who are part of the student council, accompanied by Councillor Maria Doyle, to the Gallery. They are very welcome and I thank them for being here this morning.

We all join with the Senator in that welcome and hope they have a lovely day in Leinster House and have happy memories for the future.

In the spirit of confidence and supply, I also welcome Councillor Maria Doyle and her group. It is good to see young people so involved in politics.

That is why she is leaving.

She was leaving once she heard me mention her name again.

I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business. I want to raise a couple of points. A report in today's edition of the Irish Independent reports on the housing crisis and states that more than half of renters say that the housing situation is impacting on their mental and physical health. Some 84% of all renters are feeling insecure about their housing situation, particularly those aged between 18 and 50. Some 68% of women lack security and only 16% of people between 25 and 35 say they feel secure about where they live.

I acknowledge we dealt with residential property and tenancies yesterday and some of the things discussed will help tenants but this remains a considerable problem. We are doing our best on mental health in many ways but, in other areas, there is a lack of progress. I do not doubt that the Leader will have lots of good figures from Rebuilding Ireland to mention in his response but the lack of housing supply, security of tenure and the opportunity to buy a house for many people is causing damage. If we could sort those things out and had a more sustainable housing programme, we might not have to invest half as much in mental and physical health measures.

I attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment this morning and I welcome the fact that the committee has agreed to establish an inquiry to investigate and examine how rural broadband can best be delivered. That will be a timely and efficient report. My party and I are absolutely determined that everyone in this country gets broadband but we need to ensure we get value for money and that, if we are contributing a lot of money, the State does not just hand it all over to an investor who will have ownership of the project despite investing much less money than the State.

We also need a debate on Rehab and section 38 and section 39 facilities shortly. Rehab was hit by financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, and is not getting the benefits of the removal of FEMPI and it is important. Many of those types of organisation are losing staff to other organisations which have had reduced FEMPI in the meantime.

I was canvassing yesterday and met a lady who had come back to Ireland from the missions in Lesotho. She has been back for two years at this stage. She wrote to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because, when she went to Lesotho, she exchanged her Irish driving licence for a Lesothan one. She has not been allowed to exchange it back. She also wrote to the Taoiseach who responded and said he would pass it on to the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, from whom she still has heard nothing. We need to deal with people's situations when they are coming back to this country. This lady had an Irish driving licence. I am sure her name, date of birth and so on are somewhere in the system, along with her qualifications. She has been unable to drive since she came back to Ireland because she has no driving licence and has not been able to exchange the Lesothan one for an Irish one. Lesothans drive on the same side of the road and observe the same rules of the road.

It is also timely that I welcome the visit of President Trump. The USA is one of the most important countries with which we have an enormous connection. My grandfather was the youngest of ten, eight of whom went to America and one of whom died young. Almost everyone in this Chamber has family and connections in America. It is a very important trading partner and cultural friend. Regardless of who it is, the fact that the President of the United States is coming to Ireland is something we should welcome. We welcome people from all kinds of other countries with human rights records that are not as good as America's. It is important we welcome him.

I echo the words of Senator Horkan. We have a proud tradition of welcoming leaders of other countries and if we have something to say to them, regarding human rights or anything else, we say it to them when they are here. I fully support what Senator Horkan has said.

I was one of the people who insisted yesterday that we stopped on Committee Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018. That was not, in any way, to impede what the Minister is trying to do. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government gets a considerable amount of stick in the public domain. We need to look at the financial side of purchasing property for young couples in this country. I believe the Central Bank rules are too strict. There are young couples capable of paying €2,100 per month in rent who could mortgage the same property for approximately €1,400 per month. I know the Leader and his party would be interested in doing that. We need the Minister for Finance to come to the house and see what pressure can be brought to bear on the banking system to facilitate mortgages for young couples.

I have spoken previously about Jadotville, as the Leader knows. Today we read, in The Irish Times, of five men who took their own lives after returning from Jadotville.

Last night, Leo Quinlan delivered his Jadotville lecture to the women graduates group at Trinity College Dublin. Afterwards, the sister of Matt Quinlan, who took his own life, read the story of Matt's life. What that man went through after he came home was absolutely earth-shattering. I have banged on and on about medals for these men, but God damn it, it is a small price to pay. Last night, at the end of Bernadette Quinlan's presentation, a very elderly man from Kilkenny walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. He was a Jadotville hero and he said: "Senator, if you do nothing else in your life, bring Quinlan home to be rested with his mother and father." He shot himself in Australia and all they have is a battered suitcase with his life's possessions in it.

Today I intend to start a campaign to bring him home. I hope Members of this House and of the Lower House will support me. It is a small price to pay for the dishonour and disservice we did to those men. I ask for any support that can be given from the Leader's side of the House. I know Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and other Independents will also look on it favourably. Anything that can be done to bring that man home to rest with his mother and father is the least we could do. I call on all in the public domain to support a call. It is a very simple campaign: bring him home.

Like many others, I welcome the move by the Government to rectify the 2012 changes to the pensions and the recalculation process. As in many other announcements, however, there has been a lack of clarity about the timescale. Thousands of people around Mayo have been affected by this and have suffered drastic cuts to their pensions. They find as they come up to pension age that they are not entitled to what they rightfully expected they would be entitled to. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, said recently that 8,500 people had received a payment. She said that a further 24,000 have been contacted, leaving approximately 50,000 still to be contacted. It is also my understanding that 11,000 have yet to receive the initial correspondence from the Department and this means that approximately 61,000 people have yet to be dealt with. These people expect letters from the Department. They have rung up and made inquiries and cannot get clarity on this. How long is this process expected to take? Is there a timeframe for finalising the 24,000 and dealing with the others?

The Minister should come to the House to give us an update on the progress of the scheme. This is very urgent because there are pensioners living in fear, some who have suffered cuts and some who have been left with hardly any money to survive on. They are trying to pay for hospital treatment, travel and many other things and do not have the money for them. What is the size of the average payment? The Minister has said that 80% of the 8,500 have seen their payment increase, but what is the average uplift? There is a real injustice being done to pensioners in this country. It is being done covertly, particularly since 2012 when those changes were brought in. In 2012, people were struggling to survive and the impact of those changes is hitting home now. Some pensioners are followed beyond the grave for every last cent. It is an indictment of our country that pensioners who have contributed so much during their lives do not have sufficient pensions because of those changes. The changes do not apply only to State pensions. The ESB and the community employment scheme supervisors' pensions are affected as well. We need fairness and transparency.

I would like the Minister to come into the House at the earliest opportunity, not to give a bland statement but to answer the questions we are asked every day on doorsteps and that I am asked around Mayo by pensioners about how come their pensions have been cut by anywhere from €50 to €100. These may seem like small amounts but they are huge amounts for pensioners who have to pay for everything. We do not want a nation full of pensioners living in abject poverty at the stroke of a pen, which happened in 2012. When announcements are made, we need to see them implemented and to know before the election where pensioners stand.

Yesterday I commended the Government on bringing in the €20 million pilot fund for pyrite and mica remediation, and I welcome it for the people of Donegal and Mayo. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, said:

The scheme is an exceptional measure in response to an exceptional need. Some homeowners are in dire straits.

There is many an apartment block with families living in them who are in dire straits. There are fire marshals walking their corridors. They face possible eviction because of safety issues. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, said Government agreement for the scheme is about protecting families in their homes. Are apartment dwellers not families in their homes? The Minister said also: "It is about ensuring people feel secure and safe in the place where they have set down roots, where they are building a life, rearing a family and planning for their futures." That is all true, but there is another group who have put down roots, who have purchased apartments in good faith and who are left with a legacy issue which is not being addressed. I welcome what is happening in Donegal and Mayo, but it is purely for the election. Not all our citizens are being treated equally. Approximately 70,000 families live in apartments with legacy issues. They have been told the State will not take on any liability. I am asking for equality and fairness, that all our citizens be treated equally, that families living in apartments have the same opportunity to feel safe and secure in their homes, to put down roots, to send their children to school, but above all to feel safe in their apartments.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, would come to the House so that we can ask him why he is not treating all our citizens equally. Why are citizens living in apartment blocks not being treated in the same way as people experiencing pyrite and mica problems? This is a disgrace. There is not a Member in this House who has not been approached by a person living in dire straits in an apartment block who is being asked to pay up to €56,000 to make him or her safe and secure and to prevent fire travelling from one apartment to the other. Those people are not being listened to. Is that because they do not have the Minister for Rural and Community Development and the Minister for Education and Skills to fight for them? Ministers have refused to meet the apartment dwellers. Reluctantly, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business such that the Minister for Housing Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will attend this House to deal with this important issue today.

My colleague on the opposite side of the House raised the issue of housing. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has released figures today for house and apartment completions in the first quarter of 2019. The total number is 4,275.

This is very welcome news. It shows that every effort is being made by the Government to encourage the building of new houses and apartments, as well as making money available to all local authorities to build social housing. The target this year is 10,000 social housing units, whether apartments or houses. I hope that target will be reached, in addition to the numbers of houses and apartments that will be completed in the private sector. New house and apartment purchasers have challenges. Therefore, we need to constantly review the procedures for making loan applications. In the next two or three months we will need to see how we can further assist those who are paying high rents and trying to save and who will find, when they believe they have put a deposit together, that the goalposts have moved. It is important that people be allowed to forward-plan and get into the housing market at the earliest possible opportunity once they have established that they have the capacity to do so which they already do by virtue of the rents they are paying.

The red meat industry is coming under increasing pressure from a variety of threats. The biggest threats are the lack of profitability and unsustainable businesses, not to mention the shambles that is Brexit and the damage it could cause. The concerns were evident and raised last week at the Irish Farmers Journal beef summit at which many in the industry said they were at their wits' end and struggling to work out from where or when the rays of light of hope would emerge. It is comforting to learn this morning that the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, has announced a €50 million package to assist the industry to incentivise and encourage it to navigate its way through these very challenging times. This presents the Government with an opportunity to raise an additional €200 million. The package is both welcome and timely, but it is probably not going to be a panacea or a silver bullet for the industry because, whether we like to admit it, the agricultural system is broken. Farmers and families are working longer, harder and faster for less and less and for meagre incomes.

What are the challenges? The environment is one and we will not win the discussion by fighting with our critics. Those involved in agriculture will have to make their points and substantiate their claims to promote its merits and advantages. Another challenge is presented by in vitro meat. Laboratory grown meat is becoming a source of huge concern. One of the biggest food companies in the world, Cargill, has invested heavily in it; Memphis Meats is involved in it, while Richard Branson also invested millions in it. In this morning's edition of The Irish Times there is a headline that future food production could be animal, vegetable or cell. Vegetarianism and veganism, having started from a low base, are now significant. People come to them from a plethora of positions, including animal welfare and environmental concerns which I do not think are new. A few days ago I came across a press cutting dating from 2007 in which concerns were expressed about the dairy industry. It could easily have been written today, 12 years later, by just changing some of the names. The problems have not actually changed. The front page of the Irish Farmers Journal in March 1957 carried headlines about the bacon sector being in the doldrums, the possibility of cattle becoming scarce, beef prices and concerns about carcase quality. These issues are as relevant today as they were 62 years ago. The industry must be market-forced, consumer-led and demand-driven. We need a sustainable agricultural system in the absence of the support mechanisms which have come to be seen as the Holy Grail. There is a need for integration and the adoption of technology and efficiency measures to harvest data to make informed decisions. Doris Day passed away this week, aged 97 years. She made famous the song "Que Será Será" which includes the lines:

Que será será,

Whatever will be will be,

The future's not ours to see,

Que será será.

Those words ring true. The future is definitely not ours to see, but we must be prepared. We must counteract the lies and myths. We need to sell the industry on its merits. Those involved in it have to work together with academia and the Government to ensure we will embrace change.

Senator Craughwell graphically outlined the situation facing the Jadotville heroes. Many years ago I was one of the first Oireachtas Members to refer to their situation. A man by the name of James Tahaney from Ballyfarnon served in Jadotville and made us aware of the situation, but seven years on I am a little disappointed that many of their concerns have not been addressed. I hope they will be in the future.

We have attended a few IFA meetings. As beef farmers are very angry and upset at the way the beef industry is going, I am delighted at today's announcement that €50 million has been allocated from exceptional EU funds to the industry. I hope it will be matched by the Government and other sectoral funds because it is a way of compensating farmers for the vagaries of Brexit. Senator Marshall is right that there will be a lot of challenges down the road. He raised a few issues, at which we will have to look and which we will have to address.

President Trump is coming to County Clare. Every time I watch the film "Saving Private Ryan" I think we would not have a democracy in Europe but for the United States. Whatever we think of President Trump, the United States is a country that is very dear and that has been very good to us. Our links with it are very positive.

A few minutes ago I was delighted to join colleagues from a number of parties on the plinth to stand with the Palestinian people and call for a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. There was a big representation from my party, Sinn Féin, but I also noticed Civil Engagement group and Labour Party Members, a broad range of Independent Members, as well as Social Democrats Members. I congratulate all of them on taking the time to do so and the principled stance they took. I congratulate, in particular, Senator Frances Black who has shown such principled leadership on the issue of Palestine in the time she has been in the House. It is truly disappointing, however, that nobody from Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael could find the time to come and join us. I call for a further debate on the issue. Anyone who has been to Palestine knows the reality of what is going on there. A further 65 people were injured this morning on the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, otherwise known as the catastrophe. I think back to the movement of artists against apartheid in South Africa which, unfortunately, I am old enough to remember. Can Members imagine the horror in the 1980s if South Africa was to host a song contest? Would anybody really have stood up and said it was fine to go ahead and send our representatives there to sing and dance? Of course, they would not have because it would have been horrific, but there is a wall of silence among the conservatives in this Chamber on the issue of Palestine. It is truly shameful. The Members to whom I refer are on the wrong side of history in that regard. Just as the South African people found justice, the Palestinian people will also find it. It is hugely disappointing that the Members to whom I refer have decided not to take a principled, cross-party stand with the people of Palestine. It is shameful that Ireland is taking part in the contest and that RTÉ is supporting that stance. We can and must do better. The people of Ireland are behind the Palestinians. There were commemorations across the State yesterday, including in my city of Limerick, to remember the Nakba. I express my genuine disappointment that the parties to whom I refer are not prepared to stand with the Palestinian people.

I second Senator Humphreys' proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

When I arrived here this morning, I noticed a young man who was transferring plants from a box to a plant holder at the back of the building. We do not often appreciate the valuable work done to make this House look beautiful, even with the renovations that are ongoing. The plants are beautiful and make it a worthy place for us to receive international visitors. It is appropriate to express our gratitude to those who undertake this work on our behalf.

This Saturday the people of Australia go to the polls in a hotly anticipated general election, but it is on a sad note that they do so, knowing that the former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke passed away earlier this morning. As a very young child, following politics, I would have admired him, not least for his abilities in cricket and a couple of beers as well. It brings a focus to a wider discussion on potential Irish-Australian and Irish-New Zealand connections in the post-Brexit era, where we see Australia and New Zealand are just two of 19 countries that trade with the EU solely on WTO terms, terms that are simply not good enough and terms that can be changed. I am calling for a debate and a push from our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to work with our European colleagues to facilitate and accelerate trade talks between the EU with Australia and New Zealand and I ask the Leader to raise this as soon as possible.

I join Senator Richmond in extending our condolences to the family of Mr. Bob Hawke and the people of Australia on the very sad occasion of his passing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I thank the Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I thank Senators Horkan, Craughwell and Feighan for raising the possible visit of President Trump to Ireland. It is important, as both Senators Craughwell and Horkan have said, that we welcome the President of the United States. We may not agree with him politically and on any particular issue, but he is still the democratic Head of State. As Senator Horkan quite rightly said, and I commend him on his remarks, generations of Irish people have travelled to and made a life in America, and they have made a vast contribution to the building of America. We are very dependent on American companies coming to Ireland, but we are also very dependent on America as a market for many of our goods and produce. Equally, many Irish people are working and setting up companies across America, so it is important that we welcome President Trump. We can protest and disagree with him, as I have done on many issues of human rights, but it is important that we do not just become a nation that does not welcome him. There is a way in which we can demonstrate protest and opposition to policies.

Senators Horkan and Colm Burke raised the issue of the housing crisis. Senator Horkan is correct. I am working with Dr. Fiona Chambers from UCC on a project called WickED, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, came to Cork to meet the group two weeks ago. There is a profound impact on the mental health of some people of a certain generation, and the Senator is right to raise that matter. We must work to combat and overcome it. Equally, Senator Colm Burke's contribution, which highlighted that there is a 22% increase in housing completions and apartment construction, is important and should be acknowledged. We have challenges, we have a crisis, and we need to get it right. The increase in supply is beginning to happen and Government is committing resources.

The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment will be holding an inquiry into broadband. We will have statements on it in the House later today, so I will let the matter rest.

I also agree with Senator Horkan that we need to have a discussion on section 38 and section 39 organisations. I know the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris has been working very closely with Rehab to ensure that services are provided. Many of us have received emails from people, such as family members of those who benefit from the services and employment that Rehab provides. Rehab plays a significant role in society. Members want to see the continuation of Rehab services and want to see that the people who are benefiting from their involvement and engagement continue to do so. I will have the Minister come to the House.

Senator Horkan mentioned his conversation with a lady who had returned from Lesotho who had difficulties getting a driving licence. The bureaucracy needs to be changed to ensure that Irish people returning from abroad can have their driving licence fast-tracked and can integrate into society more quickly. I agree with the Senator.

Senator Trump raised the issue-----

Senator Craughwell raised the-----

A natural mistake.

An understandable mistake.

I see very little resemblance.

(Interruptions).

As is normal, I will not rise to the bait.

We are all human, Leader.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue, and I agree with him-----

The students were looking carefully for Senator Trump.

They might find him in Doonbeg or in County Clare in a couple of weeks. I am sure they will have a very different viewpoint from me. Senator Craughwell raised the issue of those paying high rents, which should be taken into account when they are seeking a mortgage. He is correct and I have made this point to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, that the amount of rent paid should be taken into the calculation when people seek a mortgage. People are paying significant rent, which is similar to if not more than the amount they would pay for a mortgage. It would be very good to have a debate on this topic.

Senators Feighan and Craughwell raised the issue of Jadotville. We all want to see justice for the men of Jadotville and that they be honoured. Senator Craughwell, along with others, has been a passionate advocate for them. I am prepared to have the Minister come to the House and I will work with all Members to ensure that these soldiers are honoured and that the case the Senator raised is brought to the Minister's attention. It is important that we remember that a wrong was done. How we redress that is beyond the Members, but we can work with all parties to ensure it happens.

There goes the harmony, as I come to my good friend, Senator Conway-Walsh. There must be an election coming.

If the Leader says so.

Is there another coming?

There are elections on Friday week - the local elections and the European election, along with the plebiscite and the referendum on divorce. The people of Cork will have four ballot papers. I know that the opinion polls are worrying some of the members in Sinn Féin.

Does the Leader reckon?

Sinn Féin had been moving toward the centre but now it has gone back to the one dimensional transferable speech of ochón agus ochón. I would love to have an honest debate with Members of the House about how our country has benefited from the past seven years of Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party and now Fine Gael and Independents. Let us have an honest debate around the working and living conditions of many people.

We could hold it in Limerick hospital could we?

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is available to come to the House in June to have a debate on pensions. I do not have the information raised by the Senator about some parts of the 2012 changes and the review of those. I sent a message and we will have that debate in June.

Senator Humphreys has been articulating, championing and advocating for people who are in a very distressed state, and it is very worrying, to be fair, about their property, its structural deficiencies, and other issues. Unfortunately, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy is not available today. In the period between Senator Humphreys's contribution and now, I attempted to have the Minister available, but he is available to come to the House for a full debate on the matter on Thursday, 30 May. Rather than dividing the House today, I appeal to Senator Humphreys, who ultimately wants to get a resolution, to agree that the best opportunity to do so would be to hold a debate on that date.

I referred to Senator Colm Burke's contribution on housing. Senators Marshall and Feighan also raised the issue of farming and the announcement by the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Commissioner Hogan of a €50 million fund for the beef sector, which is welcome. Senator Marshall stated that we should not take what the naysayers and the critics say but instead engage, listen and work together to deal with the compendium of challenges that face us.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of Palestine, and again there must an election coming. As I have said in this House previously, I am a very strong supporter of the Palestinian people. I have not been a supporter of a boycott of the Eurovision Song Contest. I have made that clear to Senator Warfield and his colleagues in this House and on other platforms. I do not believe in a boycott of sporting, cultural or music events. I do not think a boycott of the Eurovision will serve any purpose and it ill behoves people to use a platform to come in and cudgel people who have a different viewpoint.

Senator Richmond spoke about the EU and Australia trade deal, which it is important to acknowledge.

I joint with Senator Norris in commending all who maintain the grounds here, indeed all who work with the OPW and do a great job in our parks and public places; it is important at this time of the year when tourists visit not just Leinster House but venues across the country. The way places such as Charles Fort in Cork and the Rock of Cashel, where I stopped off the other day, are maintained is a tribute to the OPW. If President Trump does visit, would it not be an opportunity to showcase the beauty of the west coast of Clare and other areas to the people of north America and the world? Míle buíochas to those who work in and maintain public properties and spaces.

Senator Humphreys has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government come to the House today to support the introduction of fire safety measures for apartment dwellers. Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 7; Níl, 14.

  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Marshall, Ian.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kevin Humphreys and David Norris; Níl, Deputies John O'Mahony and Neale Richmond.
Amendment declared lost.
Order of Business agreed to.