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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 30 May 2019

Vol. 265 No. 15

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointment of a special committee to be known as the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 2) Regulations 2019, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, statements on fire safety in apartment dwellings, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 or 12.45 p.m., whichever is the later, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each.

I commend a new campaign, Losing Your Marbles.

It could be singular, rather than plural, for some.

It is a campaign launched by Sage Advocacy, a group which advocates for elderly people. It wants them to have the right to be unwise when making decisions about where they want to live or be cared for. Members might remember that last year a caller to Joe Duffy's "Liveline" show, Sadie, had been left in a nursing home by her family who very much loved her, as she acknowledged. However, after her injury had healed, she very much wanted to go home to be close to her friends and take part in bridge games. Thankfully, as we all learned, after she spoke to Joe Duffy, her family listened to her and she went home. It was a really nice story. The assisted decision-making legislation has autonomy and the right to self-determination at its heart. Therefore, the campaign is welcome as we need to be more conscious of people's wishes as they grow older. Obviously, there are instances where an enduring power of attorney needs to be invoked, but sometimes people can still make small decisions. They should be allowed to remain autonomous for as long as they can.

I raise the issue of crime in Dublin city where there have been three shootings in the last week. There was a stabbing yesterday on Thomas Street, while cars were burned out in Dolphin's Barn. There are huge issues with gangland and non-gangland crime in the city. We need to have a debate in the House as we need to really look at what is going on in the city. People are absolutely terrified. In the latest shooting neighbours were nearly run down by the getaway cars. It is not right when innocent bystanders are directly affected by the actions of those taking part in gangland activities. This has been ongoing for a long time and we need to look at how the issue can be resolved. I know that the Taoiseach is going out, but we need to see the provision of resources. A few million euro was allocated to tackle gangland crime in the north inner city, but other parts of the city were not so lucky and have not been allocated the same resources, including the south-west inner city and the south inner city. There is a need to put proper funding structures in place to help the Garda and ensure innocent people in local communities will not feel afraid when going about their business.

It needs to close Stepaside Garda station and reopen others.

Yesterday I was very surprised and taken aback to discover that the farm fatalities Bill had collapsed. I had attended an important briefing and made provision to speak to it, but I was not able to do so. The briefing was attended by a very brave man by the name of Les Martin. He has three children, a daughter and two sons, who suffer from the rare disease metachromatic leukodystrophy. Cathal was diagnosed with it when he was two and a half years old when it was too late for him. Mr. Martin is in the dreadful situation where, as a father, he is watching his son die slowly. Ciarán was taken to Italy for six months. There is a real need for an expansion of a national screening programme. We need laws to protect children and provide for full screening programmes for newborns, as well as support for and recognition of the families of these children. In Ireland there is screening for eight rare diseases only. The figure is 35 in the United States and 26 in Hungary. In one year the figure went from four to 40 in Italy. Those involved with the Italian programme have enthusiastically offered to help Ireland to implement such a programme. The cost is €50 per child. By spending €3.5 million hundreds of millions would be saved in subsequent treatment costs. There are 62,000 children born in Ireland every year, of whom one in 1,250 will have a rare disease. The HSE states it is possible to implement such a programme immediately. Why, therefore, is it not being done? Children are dying at the rate of one per week and they are dying unnecessarily. By spending a small amount of money this country could save those children. Let us do it. I am calling for a proper recognition of rare diseases day in Ireland on which we should invite families and as many of the children as possible to Leinster House to meet us and see the facilities. I am calling for an urgent debate on this important issue. The people of Ireland need to know that 50 children are dying unnecessarily each year in slow and often agonising circumstances, not to mention the terrible distress of their parents.

I salute Les Martin for his courage and bravery but I cannot imagine what it must be like as a father. I hope that Ciarán will be all right. Cathal is in his last stages. This is a terrible tragedy and it is an avoidable one.

There is a recount of 750,000 ballot papers in Cork this morning.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan is involved.

It is almost a week since people cast their ballots but it will probably be the weekend before we get a result.

Do I hear e-voting?

Do we need to look at this? We have talked about an electoral commission to look at this. There are 750,000 ballot papers and each is over 2 ft. long. There are approximately 40,000 spoiled ballot papers. There has to be a better system.

One could ask why people spoil their votes.

There is a significant issue with how this process works. There are 240 staff who will be there for seven days counting votes.

They will be paid.

We need to set up an electoral commission and to examine the issue. It has been 20 years since we spoke about e-voting. We should have a debate about the system.

I am not giving up my peann luaidhe.

There were also plebiscites in three cities, two of which failed. The scenario in Cork was unusual. We asked for a plebiscite of the people of Cork on the question of a lord mayor but when we extended the boundary we never asked the people in a plebiscite - we just did it. There is a contradiction in this. There is a view that the executive could extend the boundary by law but that it could, when it suited it, ask the people for their view on the mayoralty. There is a failing in the system. I congratulate Limerick on putting the city and county together into one local authority, which gives it a real voice. There is population density now and they are moving into a new space, which is the directly elected mayor. They have moved light years ahead of Cork and Waterford by giving themselves the potential to work together. I never saw the logic of having two local authorities in one county. There has been an extension to a boundary on which nobody voted and, in the mayoral plebiscite, people asked why they were being asked to vote on the issue when they were not asked to vote on the extension of the boundary. We need to have a comprehensive look at local government, how it works and how it is funded. The vote failed in Cork because people thought it would be too expensive. If they went for a merger we would have one county manager, one executive-----

They would probably need to work together more too.

-----and fewer councillors. There would be less expense on account of everyone working together. We did not ask the people on the big decision to extend the boundary, which we did in this House, but they should have been asked. The plebiscite should not have been about the mayoralty but about having one local authority. Since we asked the wrong question, we got the wrong decision.

Perhaps we need another debate on that.

Friday, 21 June is the national family carers' day in Ireland and Shine a Light will mark the occasion. I encourage all Senators to support it. I have consistently raised the importance of carers in our society and I am increasingly frustrated with the time it takes to process carer's allowance applications. At my regular clinics I hear of backlogs of between six and eight months and that is not acceptable. The Government must do more to help these people. It costs the State three times as much to look after an older person in a nursing home than it costs to provide care for them in their own home. The number of people aged over 65 in Ireland will double over the next 30 years while the number aged over 85 will nearly quadruple. We need proper support to be in place as we are all living longer. Giving older people and those with disabilities the opportunity to remain and grow old in their own homes is a central plank of Fianna Fáil policy and we believe the waiting times for decisions that impact on people's lives are unreasonable.

This morning there was a meeting in Buswells Hotel about carers and the impact of caring. The carers who were there spoke about the mental and physical impact it has on them and we need to address this. The carers are doing an excellent job and they feel they need more support from the Government. A respite centre was meant to open in Tullow nearly three years ago. We have no overnight respite service but such facilities are crucial for families. I ask the Deputy Leader to go back to the Minister to highlight the concerns I heard about this morning and to address the time people are waiting for their applications to be processed.

I ask for a debate to be facilitated on the home loans being provided by local authorities under the Rebuilding Ireland purchase scheme. The scheme needs some changes, in particular to facilitate people who had a home but lost it in our difficult economic times, when many people lost their jobs. They are back on their feet now but cannot get a loan because their credit rating is shot. They meet all other criteria for a loan and they might expect to get a loan from their local authority but they cannot because they are not first-time buyers. I have been dealing with a couple who have two young children. They had a house and lost it but they have now settled their debt and are making a fresh start by buying a home. Both of them are in good employment and, financially, are in a position to buy a home but none of the high street banks will give them a loan nor will their local authority. I do not think that is fair and I do not think it is the best we can offer these people, who have been through a lot. They are trying to put their best foot forward and in normal circumstances they would get a loan but they cannot now. We have to step in and do something about it.

I want to put on the record my preliminary observations on the plan by the Office of Public Works, OPW, to carry out major work in the Phoenix Park. The OPW does tremendous work and I have huge admiration for it. It has done a great job in conserving the Phoenix Park and making sure it has not degraded. I have no problem with the building of a bridge over to the Islandbridge war memorial, which is one of the proposals, but the very idea of a funicular railway into the Phoenix Park is misconceived. Part of the attraction of the Phoenix Park is that it is, in some sense, a relic of the 18th and 19th centuries, part of the former Irish Raj in which big residences were plonked around the enormous campus.

Wonderful. What an era.

Part of the character of the Phoenix Park is that a lot of the land is unused or underused, creating its own attractions. There are places where deer can go, far away from funicular railways and such things.

There is no hill for a funicular railway.

The zoo has not sprawled all over the park but has expanded into lands beside Áras an Uachtaráin. The magazine fort, which I walked around on one occasion when it was carelessly left open, is decaying completely in front of our eyes but it could be a military museum or something like that. Allowing it to degrade any further would be a big mistake.

As somebody who loves the Phoenix Park, all of its memorials and big houses and the castle in it, I believe we should be very slow to turn it into something it is not, namely, a kind of Disneyland amusement park. I do not think it needs a funicular railway or novelties of any significance. While the OPW should be thanked for thinking of different ways to view its future, it should be warned off the more exotic plans it has on this occasion and asked to take a conservative view of the park.

As there are no other speakers offering, I call on the Deputy Leader to conclude.

I thank all those Members who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh quite rightly raised the Losing Your Marbles campaign. It is really important to raise awareness and we should all support that. More fundamentally, the assisted decision making legislation is extremely important. As we get older, we have more vulnerable people in our lives and it makes one much more aware of the complexities, including the difference between power of attorney and enduring power of attorney. I wish to highlight the fact that they are actually required sometimes so providing one for oneself with regard to someone who one trusts is considered to be a very prudent thing to do legally. I do not think we can highlight those types of issues enough.

The Senator also quite rightly raised the worrying trend of gangland shootings and other crimes in our capital. We should have a debate in this House but we need far more than a debate here. I know the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner have committed to visiting Coolock, which is in the area I represent.

When he has the time.

This is really important. I know the previous Taoiseach took on the inner city as a personal issue on which he worked directly. The point about resourcing is well made so I would agree with the Senator on much of that.

I am just a bit late. The Order of Business is for one hour.

Sorry. Is there a conversation?

The Order of Business has been dealt with and the Deputy Leader-----

It has not because I have not said what I want to say.

I am sorry but I asked for other speakers and nobody offered. I must rule it out of order.

The Order of Business is on the schedule from 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

It is not definite. It takes as long as there are speakers. I am very sorry-----

It is so convenient - so governmentally convenient.

Speakers need to be here on time at 11.30 a.m.

Deputy Leader, I am sorry-----

The Senator is out of order.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach is always telling Senators that they are out of order.

Only when I have to.

I am very much in order. I am standing here-----

The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

All of these orders - one is not allowed to speak.

The Senator should be aware of Standing Orders.

I am aware that the Order of Business is from 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

No, not necessarily.

Oh no, no. Not when it suits the Government.

This is a conversation-----

I am not having any conversation. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell can take it up with me afterwards. The Deputy Leader, without interruption.

This is a conversation for the CPP or another day.

You are all so mature. My God, we are coming down with morality and purity, are we not?

The Senator is talking to herself now.

Senator Norris raised the issue of the farm fatalities Bill and the case of a gentleman called Les Martin, who I have not met. The Senator is quite right in raising the issue of rare diseases. A lot of the time, we hear about rare diseases when it gets to the stage of a negotiation between the State and pharmaceutical companies at high cost. Surely these diagnoses constitute a preventive health way of approaching the matter, which we lack in this country, and cost saving because, ultimately, one front loads the cost. I agree entirely with the Senator and think we should have a debate along those lines in this House. As the Senator notes, 50 children die unnecessarily due to a lack of medicines. If Italy can manage to increase it quite significantly in a short period of time-----

I was just a bit late.

Sorry, is there a conversation going on in this House?

The provisional-----

The Senators are out of order. The Deputy Leader is responding.

I cannot control what people say. I am trying to give a response.

This is about control.

Through the Chair.

God almighty, I do not know what side of the bed everyone got out of this morning.

I was only late by 20 minutes.

No, we have to be here on time.

Can I suggest that if people want to have a conversation, they go outside?

Could Senator Noone suggest that to the Fine Gael people who spend their lives on their phones in here?

We are not talking; we are doing business. They are devices for working on.

Senator Lombard raised the issue of the recount. He makes an excellent point, namely, that there are 750,000 ballots that are two feet long that must be recounted over the coming hours. It is a significant resource issue so it is certainly something we should revisit as an issue for debate.

I congratulate Senator Byrne who led the campaign regarding the plebiscite in Limerick. The fact that it got so many leaders in the community who were not political really helped the campaign down there. It will be really interesting to see how Limerick develops as a result of passing this plebiscite. Hopefully, it will be very positive for it and other cities will see the benefit in following its lead. There was a certain cynicism in the vote in the sense that the main thing that was highlighted was the cost and wage the mayor might get but there was a lot more to it. That was a simplistic view of it.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of carers, a very important issue she raises regularly that is linked to the issue raised by Senator Ardagh earlier. We have an ageing population and it is something of which we should always be mindful. Certainly carers are deserving of resources because they save the State a lot of money so Senator Murnane O'Connor raised a very important issue.

Senator Mulherin raised the issue of home loans being provided and the need to alter the way Rebuilding Ireland works. There is a certain injustice for the couple referred to by the Senator. They are trying to make a fresh start but are meeting brick walls. I suggest that the Senator might raise it as a Commencement matter to get a more direct answer from the Department.

I agree with Senator McDowell's comments on the Phoenix Park. Sometimes, quite simply, less is more. I hear what the Senator is saying and I can see where the OPW is coming from as well. I want to have a look at the plans following hi's comments this morning because I have only heard a bit about them. The idea that deer roam freely in the Phoenix Park is part of its attractiveness and the fact that it is a "meadowy" wild type of place-----

They are fallow deer, of course, not native red deer.

Coming from Kerry, the Leas-Chathaoirleach would be an expert on deer.

They could do without a funicular railway going through the park.

Is the Senator controlling the conversation?

As Senator McDowell noted, we should be slow to change the integrity and character of the Phoenix Park. I do not know if it warrants a debate but it is certainly something that should be addressed. I will have a look at those plans to see what exactly is proposed. That was a fairly short Order of Business. It should not be as long as it normally is because, at the end of the day, we are ordering the business of the day. It should not take up as much time as it does.

Order of Business agreed to.