The Order of Business is No. 1, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 1.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 3.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2a, statements on adoption, information and tracing, to be taken at 3.15 p.m., and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be given no less than 12 minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m.; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019 – Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the Leader and remind Members that the spokesperson for each group can speak for three minutes on the Order of Business. Every other Senator can only speak for two minutes and address only one particular topic.
I look forward to the Acting Chairman enforcing that.
I will do my best. I ask all Members to be relatively gentle with me on my day in the Chair for the Order of Business. I call Senator Ardagh.
There is a crisis in maternity services across the country and the pace of development in maternity hospitals is very slow. There is movement on Holles Street hospital, little progress on the move of the Coombe Hospital to St. James's Hospital and little progress on the move of the Rotunda Hospital to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. We have had shocking reports from Professor Malone, of the Rotunda Hospital, concerning the intolerable patient safety crisis in the neonatal unit there. It is understood that eight babies have been affected. There is a high risk of infection because of the poor infrastructure. This has caused infections and one case of death, it is understood. It is very frightening for a new mother who may potentially be attending the Rotunda in need of the services of that neonatal unit. The Minister for Health, in particular, needs to take heed of the comments made by Professor Malone.
Professor Malone is seeking a short-term solution in the form of the construction of a new west wing at the hospital. That seems a reasonable request given that the move to Connolly Hospital is 15 years away. Professor Malone went on to give a stark warning to the Minister that the potential financial liabilities for the State associated with the clinical indemnity scheme payments for damages or dead babies may be very significant, potentially exceeding the cost of the interim development at the site. The Minister needs to take heed of this. We need to spend much more money on maternity services. Women need access to early scans and blood tests. Those services are not in place at the moment. I came across a lady who was 16 weeks pregnant recently and she had not yet had a scan. I thought that was quite shocking. It is clear that public maternity services are poor. We need a proper debate and we need to move this issue on very quickly. I have said this before. We would see maternity hospitals akin to the Aviva Stadium if men were having children. Go down to the Coombe instead and what is evident is a cattle mart. There are prefabs and poor and intolerable infrastructure for the treatment of women.
I would also like to raise the issue of Facebook's new virtual currency. It plans to launch a virtual coin called "Libra". It is a type of Bitcoin and will not be regulated in this State and it will not have the protections of the Central Bank. There is, however, a great appetite for this type of currency in Ireland. We need legislation on this issue and we should consider a debate in this House on such virtual currencies as Libra coin and Bitcoin. When one sees giant companies such as Facebook entering this market, one knows these currencies are going to gain traction and affect our daily lives. Many of us will be using such currencies and we need to get ahead of this curve.
It is now around 14 years since a Member of this House, Senator Tom Morrissey, convened a conference, A New Heart for Dublin, in Dublin Castle. My recollection is that Senator Norris chaired that conference. The proposal was that Dublin Port should be removed from its current location to Bremore in north County Dublin. A high-rise redevelopment of the centre of the city would then take place on the lands vacated by the port. I mention this because I notice in today's newspapers that there is a reference to Dublin City Council adopting a plan to have buildings of up to 25 storeys in what is termed "docklands".
We should consider two points and this House is the proper forum to do that because this is not just a local issue. This is the capital of the country and this concerns its future. The first point is whether the docklands area should be redeveloped while Dublin's port remains in its current low-rise location immediately adjoining it. The second point, then, is whether the infrastructural decisions now being made about Dublin should take account of a proposal to build a high-rise core to the city between the Custom House and Dublin Bay. I will mention briefly in passing that Senator Morrissey's proposal was visionary at the time and is still valid. The conference in question, chaired by Senator Norris, was addressed by people such as Frank McDonald and Anthony Reddy, the architect, as well as various other people from the Dublin tourism sector. That vision for Dublin foresaw cruise ships coming into the city. We now, however, have Dublin Port trying to get rid of cruise liners because they are excessive. It was also suggested that the industrial aspect of Dublin Port should be relocated to Bremore in north Dublin.
I should also mention that this was retaliated against by Dublin Port Company in a most savage way. It put up advertising hoardings across the city to try to rally opposition to it and reported former Senator Morrissey to the Standards in Public Office Commission. It claimed that people who had participated in the conference and paid the fee were making a contribution to a political party and that the Senator had not declared this. We need those in charge, specifically the Ministers, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Shane Ross, to come to the House to have a debate on the future structure of and planning in the city of Dublin. We need a broad-ranging debate on whether former Senator Morrissey's visionary plan for Dublin is the way forward or whether vested interests in the form of the Dublin Port Company and its desire to remain located at its current position should win out. I ask the Leader to arrange a full and participative debate that would include Members not just from Dublin but also from across the country. A clear vision should be stated by the Government as to where it sees the city of Dublin developing and how it envisages the installation of the necessary infrastructure for such development.
I commend the Union of Students in Ireland on the presentations it is making today on the challenges facing students and their families. As we enter the time when students are finishing leaving certificate examinations, the pressure is growing on students and their families. The Union of Students in Ireland has prepared a submission with the title, The Crisis Never Ended. It indicates that there were 235,644 students in Ireland in 2017 and 2018 and that the number is growing all the time. Nevertheless, student grant recipient numbers have fallen by 4,022 because many families have become ineligible for student grants. This can be combined with the ever-increasing cost of accommodation and other expenses in education. We are making it extremely difficult for people, particularly those in marginalised communities or perhaps those in homes that are not conducive to students participating fully in education. We need to consider the barriers we are putting in place for all of these students. There are the parents now known as JAMs, "just about managing". A parent with a gross income of just over €39,000 and three children, one, two or three of whom are at college at the same time, will find it impossible to survive without getting further into debt. This is reflected in the number of students with mental health difficulties, the rate of which has increased by 127% since 2014. Families are under financial pressure because of the bureaucracy and intransigence in the student grant system and the low thresholds. We must examine it. Is a review being made of student grants? If so, what are the terms of reference for it? I know a parent who paid €5,000 for accommodation last year, but it is not allowed as expenditure when the application to SUSI is made in the following year. It is counted as earned income, but that is crazy because the money was not available in the household for spending. We must examine what expenditure is allowed. This is a really serious matter. I do not want to live in a state where people are excluded from education. It is not what we are about. We have always valued education and must ensure we continue to do so. Its value must be reflected in the budget decisions made this year on education and the review of the SUSI grants system.
I congratulate Irish Rail on responding to recent cases of anti-social behaviour on its services by introducing a text message alert system. It is due to come into effect in the next couple of weeks to deal with anti-social behaviour on rail services. Anybody who uses the DART, in particular, knows that it is an important transport service for the citizens of Dublin and that we must defend public transport because it is important. We must ensure we can overcome the barriers that might make people reluctant to use the DART service. It is time to have a discussion with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on security in the transport system. He has spoken about being in favour, in principle, of having a transport police service or a section of An Garda Síochána being assigned to transport services. I would appreciate it if the Leader facilitated such a discussion. There is a realisation in Irish Rail that there is a problem. If the Minister also recognises there is a problem, perhaps we might work together to try to find a solution and deal with the matter in the way it has been dealt with in other jurisdictions.
I commend the #SaferFromHarm campaign. Yesterday Christy Moore lent his considerable credibility to the campaign which aims to advance the cause of decriminalising drug use and dealing with addiction simply as a medical issue rather than as a criminal justice matter. I know that the relevant Minister of State will soon have sight of a working group report and we hope to discuss its recommendations. There is a growing body of opinion which realises the place for people with addiction is not a courtroom or a Garda station, that they should be helped in the medical sphere. I would appreciate having a discussion in this House on the report with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, in order that we can advance the cause of decriminalisation of drug use. I congratulate the Ana Liffey Project and others who are behind the agenda. To my mind, it is one of the more crucial campaigns of our time. As we are so close to making a difference in this space, I would really appreciate having that debate.
I refer to the 50-bed replacement ward block at Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe. The matter has been ongoing for many years. It is a shovel-ready project. It is essential that we see works progressing as quickly as possible. When I recently met hospital management, it highlighted the urgent need for the project to progress. The current ward block is not fit for purpose and the project is extremely important in improving conditions for both patients and staff at the hospital. In the previous reply I received on the matter I was informed that the Health Service Executive had indicated to the Department that tender documents were being prepared, with a view to progressing procurement and commencing an enabling works contract in 2019. I want to know at what stage the process is at, as no enabling works have taken place so far this year. I would like to see the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, address the Seanad on the capital plan. It is crucial that we see the new 50-bed replacement ward block at Portiuncula University Hospital as part of the plan. It is important that we see progress on it without delay. Both patients and staff are operating in conditions that are not fit for purpose. We need to see progress on an enabling works contract and a budget for the capital plan.
I support the proposal made by Senator Hopkins in respect of Portiuncula University Hospital. As chairman of the then Western Health Board, I had the honour of signing the contract to take over operation of the hospital in 2011 for £11 million. The former Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children, Brian Cowen, initiated the purchase as it was very important that the hospital be brought under State control.
It is important, as Senator Hopkins said, that it is refurbished now. It, and the other hospitals in the region, including Roscommon University Hospital, are very important. My wife Mary and I have had good experiences with Portiuncula Hospital over the years, and many very happy events have happened there. I am delighted that Senator Hopkins has raised this here today, as this is a good vehicle for raising such issues and to say to the Minister that we need fair distribution of funding to allow for the continued development of the hospital in Ballinasloe. I hope the national children's hospital is not sucking all the capital out of the Department of Health and depriving worthy projects, such the new unit that is needed in Roscommon University Hospital. We need to work together as Oireachtas Members in the interests of both the hospitals in the region.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh, about the Union of Students in Ireland. Education, and third level education in particular, is vital for both the growth of our economy and its sustainability when it comes to foreign direct investment and so on. That is not in any way to undermine the need for greater emphasis on apprenticeships, which should also concern us.
Last night I was contacted by some spouses of members of the Army Ranger wing who are about to be sent to Mali. I find the detachment going to Mali quite difficult to understand. Why are we sending 14 men to one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and to one of the most dangerous places within that country? I am not sure what 14 people are going to do there. There has been some debate about them going to do some peace enforcement, which people seem to feel is in some way contrary to this mad notion that Ireland is a neutral nation. As we know, we are not. They are going under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for peace enforcement. It was voted through the Dáil back in the 1990s, so we have no difficulty with that. However, these men are going out there having been granted an adjudication under the conciliation and arbitration scheme of €50 to €60 extra pay per week, which has not been paid to date despite being backdated to 2006. The adjudication was heard in 2010, when this economy was on its knees, but the adjudicator still felt it was right and proper to award them an extra €50 to €60 a week.
I have one final point. I am sure Members of the House have received emails from people from the-----
Everyone other than the group spokesperson is entitled to one topic, and the Senator has already had two, so I ask him to conclude at this point.
I shall take the matter up next week.
He can even do it tomorrow.
About this time last year, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, announced a pilot project for work permits for the agriculture sector, consisting of 500 permits for horticulture, 250 for meat, and 50 for dairy. A year has passed and I would like to see an examination of the pilot, including its successes and what review has taken place. This stems from the fact that there are a lot of complaints about delays in the issuing of work permits to foreign workers to come here to work on farms, particularly in the dairy sector. I know only 50 visas were allocated to that sector but there seem to be inordinate delays. Farmers have scaled up their dairy farms, invested heavily, and are finding they cannot do the work. They are under serious stress and pressure as they cannot get workers in on their farms. If we are to continue to support our agriculture sector, we have to sort this out. When we look for skilled farm workers from abroad, we are competing with New Zealand, the Gulf states, and Canada, and there are no issues around getting visas and work permits in those countries, so we need to up our game. It deserves a fuller debate, and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to have a discussion about farming, farm workers, work permits, and the terms and conditions of people who are working on farms as employees.
Last week, Senator McDowell predicted, correctly, that the need for a money message would be wheeled out in relation to my National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017, and that happened last night. I will not mention all of the Bills that have had money message requirements attached to them because I only have two minutes, but prominent ones include the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, and now last night's Bill. I was with a host of trade unionists in the Public Gallery last night when this happened. Their jaws dropped and they asked for an explanation of what this money message was. An article in The Irish Times last week by Eoin Daly and David Kenny got it right when it claimed that it is effectively a universal veto. It disregards how people vote in either Chamber, and if the Government does not want it to happen, it simply dispatches with democracy.
It is also illegal.
It is illegal, as the Senator correctly pointed out. I am calling for a debate on this but I want more than that. It is time that all of us across Opposition groups acknowledge that we cannot put up with this anymore. This is an absolute outrage. It is the antithesis of democracy, and the Leader laughing at this is disrespectful.
I am laughing at the Senator and his response to democracy.
It is absolutely disrespectful.
Through the Chair.
The people in the Chamber last night-----
The Leader will have an opportunity to respond.
There were dozens of trade unionists in the Public Gallery of the Chamber last night who were absolutely disgusted with the cynical approach of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, and the Government. The Government could not win the argument or the vote, so instead it took its ball off the pitch. This is playground politics of the worst kind. I am calling on my comrades in Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, and on the Independent benches to have a meeting to discuss this because it is not good enough. It is undermining both this Chamber and the Dáil, and it is time all of us worked together to bring it to an end.
How much of that has now been spent since January?
I have been reminded that the money message is a Dáil procedure rather than a Seanad procedure but I acknowledge the point that it effectively-----
There is not much point in us having Bills in this House.
I take Senator McDowell's point, and it is well made.
I have just read Conor Gallagher's article in The Irish Times today about the difficult and tragic case of Ana Kriégel-----
Sentencing of the individuals in that case has not happened yet, so I ask the Senator to be very careful. If he is going to pursue this, anything he says might be misinterpreted, so it might be better if he leaves it until the sentencing has been concluded. I am just asking him to be careful as to what he says.
That is good advice.
What I am about to say is in the public domain. The article, about a young girl who was bullied and murdered, is traumatising and moving. I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána, as well as to the families of both Ana Kriégel and the boys involved. This case has shaken this country. I do not know what else to say, but everybody should read Conor Gallagher's respectful piece today because it has certainly left me moved and traumatised.
I certainly sympathise with Ana Kriégel's family. I read the article myself, and it is harrowing. In my position, I want to be careful we do not say something that would have an influence on the sentencing or be interpreted in that way. I thank the Senator for his understanding.
I welcome the decision of the Government not to proceed with the progress through this House today of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. The decision represents a significant climbdown. The Government should withdraw the Bill at this point because it is a complete and utter mess and has met significant opposition in the House.
Senator McDowell is correct in his recollection that I chaired the conference that was convened many years ago by the very interesting and highly intelligent former Senator Tom Morrissey. I note that today the Dublin Port Company has announced an investigation into data leaks which revealed the extravagant use of credit credits at the company. Why is it pursuing the leaks instead of investigating the circumstances that gave rise to the disgraceful, luxurious expenditure of €500,000 on credit cards? It is outrageous.
There was expenditure of €7 million on a garden.
The organisation should be ashamed of itself for talking about a leak. The information is in the public domain and we want to know how these things were allowed to happen.
A short while ago, Senator Bacik, a good friend of mine and someone I respect and admire a great deal, congratulated the Government on the passage of the Act that criminalised the purchase of sex. As I recall, I was the only person in the House with the guts to oppose that disgusting, smug, middle-class piece of hypocrisy. I predicted at the time we debated it that the legislation would lead to increased dangers for sex workers. In fact, violence against them has increased by 92% in the past year. The most vulnerable people have been left exposed by the provisions of the legislation. The World Health Organization, AIDS organisations and others came out against the Bill at the time, but smug, middle-class hypocrisy and voter appeal won out. It is a disgrace.
I welcome the delegation from the Navan Active Retirement Group who are accompanied in the Visitors Gallery by gardaí from Navan, together with Deputy Cassells and Councillor Mike Bray. The visitors are very welcome and I hope they will have a nice day in Leinster House.
I have two questions about the climate action plan launched earlier in the week. Senator Mulherin referred to the additional work permits we were awaiting in the horticulture and forestry sector, for which applications had been submitted. The action plan includes an ambitious target of putting an additional 8,000 ha of land under forestry per year. That is good news, but it brings with it issues related to employment, training and skills. Horticulture and forestry are two areas in which we can excel, particularly in expanding output of commercial timbers. We need to look at internal markets and internal consumption, of soft woods, in particular, and the potential to develop these areas. In the past ten years there has been massive growth in the apples and orchard sector related to cider production, particularly in Clonmel and the midlands. The experts at Teagasc tell us that they would like to see this area expand further to provide employment opportunities. However, that will require training resources and additional permits.
The action plan includes a proposal for the establishment of a just transition review group. A just transition is critical if we are to bring people along with us in seeking to achieve our climate goals. Otherwise, not everybody will be able to absorb all of the objectives and some will be left behind. In the case of persons on the edges of society, particularly those with income disadvantages, who will pay, for instance, to retrofit their homes? We can find ways to ensure nobody will be left behind, but we need to hear how it will be done. Any debate in the House on the action plan should zone in specifically on the issue of a just transition.
I thank the Leader and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, for agreeing to a change in the schedule for our consideration of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. Yesterday many of us expressed concern that the Bill was proceeding to Committee Stage, even though we were very dissatisfied with the framework of the Minister's proposed amendments. We were told about the numerous flaws in the Bill, some of which we had identified ourselves. I am glad that the Minister consulted many of the stakeholders last night, including Dr. Maeve O'Rourke and the Adoption Rights Alliance. I am also pleased that she is consulting the Attorney General on the amendment I put forward which would change the framework within which the Bill as drafted and meet many of our concerns about the balancing of rights in respect of information and privacy. I welcome the decision to defer Committee Stage and the opportunity to discuss these broad issues during statements later.
I must respond to my dear friend and fellow group member Senator Norris.
Senator Norris should not have spoken on a second topic. However, since I allowed it, I will also allow Senator Bacik to respond.
This is my main topic.
Senators are only allowed to raise one topic.
I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.
The Acting Chairman should harass Senator Bacik as much as he likes.
Of course, I take umbrage at Senator Norris's suggestion the impetus behind Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Act 2017 was a smug, middle-class sense of purpose.
That is precisely what it was and I thank the Senator for repeating the assertion. May we hear it again?
The Senator may not. The impetus behind the criminalisation of sex purchase derived clearly and explicitly from a view of prostitution as the exploitation of women. It derived from a feminist sensibility and ideology.
The Senator did not talk to the women involved.
We certainly did. I was proud to be a member of the justice committee which recommended the approach we adopted in the 2017 Act. I pay tribute to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who drove the legislation, rightly, from an explicitly feminist perspective, with the focus on protecting women who were being exploited.
What about the 92% increase in the level of violence?
Ruhama and the other organisations involved in the Turn Off the Red Light coalition have strongly criticised-----
No. The Senator is wrong.
Senator Norris should have some manners and listen to what Senator Bacik is saying.
Senator Bacik to continue, without interruption.
Those organisations have strongly and rightly criticised what appears to be a continued focus in policing on prosecuting women involved in selling sex. That is not what the legislation was intended to do. We want to see more prosecutions of clients, which was the purpose behind the law. Its objective is to tackle the demand for prostitution.
What about the 92% increase in the level of violence?
This is like a meeting of a Trinity College Dublin debating society.
That is the only way we will address the exploitation, violence and organised crime networks which are an implicit part of prostitution.
There has been a 92% increase in the level of violence since the Act was introduced.
The Act is not responsible for any increase in the level of violence. What we do see is that where prostitution is addressed in the Swedish manner, that is, by criminalising the purchase of sex, there are better police reporting structures for those engaged in prostitution and reduced criminalisation, which is the purpose behind the legislation we introduced. That is what happened in Sweden and what we want to see happening here. The Garda needs to step up its policing of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex by focusing on the clients. That is the idea behind this feminist legislation.
That is complete rubbish.
I encourage all Oireachtas Members to attend the briefing being given by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, today in the National Museum of Ireland. Its concerns facing into budget 2020 are all straightforward and include improving educational outcomes for children, reducing class sizes, supporting teaching principals in schools with one to four teachers and securing additional resources for the capitation grant. They are reasonable demands that would not impose a considerable burden on the education budget. I hope they can be delivered on in the autumn.
In a report issued this week the International Monetary Fund, IMF, made a concerning forecast that Ireland was entering uncharted waters in advance of Brexit and effectively heading into the winds of a recession, with a prediction that the economy could contract by anything up to 5% when or if the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union.
The IMF also refers to the need for the rainy day fund. My concern is that the Government's proposals, which are contained within legislation before the House, cap that fund at a figure in the region of €8 billion. I do not know why that is the case. I know the Minister gave his rationale but capping a rainy day fund when we are facing into a recession is not the right thing to do. We should have a debate on this matter, before the summer recess if possible. I know the Government is looking at two budgetary scenarios for October, but we are facing down the barrel of a recession, particularly in light of the way in which the Conservative Party is conducting its leadership election. It is likely that whoever is appointed as the new British Prime Minister will have to withdraw from the European Union to show that he has achieved something. I ask for a debate on that issue, if possible between now and the summer recess.
I thank the 14 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I dtús báire Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the national maternity hospital. With regard to the maternity strategy, I alert the Seanadóir to the fact that we have a national maternity strategy up and running. Significant developments in the delivery of the national maternity strategy have already occurred. I remind Senator Ardagh that €3 million was allocated to the development of maternity services in 2016, €6.4 million was allocated in 2017, €4.15 million was allocated in 2018, and an additional €3.1 million has been allocated to the national women and infants programme in 2019. This is all extra money. One point to be made in respect of our maternity services is that 15 of the 19 maternity hospitals are now able to offer routine anomaly scanning. This is an improvement and there is more to come.
With regard to the Rotunda, the Minister, the Government and all of us are fully aware of the concerns raised by Professor Malone. The Department's priority has always been the welfare of the infants affected by the outbreak of the bacterial infection. The Department has been in regular contact with the hospital to ensure that appropriate care is provided. The matters the Senator has spoken about with regard to development have had no impact on the issues relating to the healthcare-associated infection she mentioned. I will point out to her that €7 million has been invested in the last two years, comprising an allocation of €2 million in 2018 and €5 million this year. The Minister is working with the Government, the HSE, and the hospitals to ensure our maternity hospitals are fully resourced and fully staffed. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard. On the matter of Facebook's currency, I am happy to have the relevant Minister come before the House.
Senators McDowell and Norris raised the issue of Dublin Port. I suggest to Senator McDowell that he may get a more expeditious reply to his legitimate concerns by talking to the Leas-Chathaoirleach about the Seanad Public Consultation Committee doing some work on the issue. To be fair to the Senator, rather than having, as he said, a participative debate, we may need to do some more substantive work on the matter.
I agree. That is a good idea.
The points he made regarding "A New Heart for Dublin" are very relevant. These points could also apply to Cork or Galway. I very much regret that we did not choose to have a directly-elected mayor for Cork. I believe that a directly-elected mayor in Cork, Galway, Limerick or Dublin could transform and drive change in the city. It is regrettable that the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party abdicated his responsibility in Cork city and did not campaign for a directly-elected mayor.
There must be an election coming.
Such campaigning would have served the people of Cork better than playing petty partisan politics. The point the Senator makes is highly relevant to the future of our capital city. Senator Norris, who is not present but that is not my problem, raised the issue of-----
He will still get a headline.
-----the use of credit cards in the Dublin Port Company. It is an independent company and the article is based on a leak. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or misallocation. The expenses were approved. I am not condoning the expenditure but, in the absence of the person in question, we must be careful about what we say and about how we present issues. As the Senator will know, there have been calls - which I support - for representatives of Dublin Port to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts. The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport has also asked for such a meeting. I am all for accountability and transparency but we also need to be fair to people. I fully agree with Senator McDowell regarding the issue of Dublin Port. We should be encouraging cruise liners to come to our capital city because they are a source of tourist revenue and their visits are an opportunity to showcase our country and city. We should also encourage them to come to Cork, where the Port of Cork is engaged in a very strong, proactive campaign in respect of cruise liners. I would be happy to talk to the Senator about progressing the suggestions he has made regarding this matter.
Senators Conway-Walsh and Craughwell raised the issue of education in the context of today's briefing by the Union of Students in Ireland, USI. There are record numbers of people in third level education, which we welcome. There are challenges in our third level sector and I am happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, come to the House.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of Irish Rail. We all congratulate Irish Rail on the innovative decision it has taken to provide a text messaging service to allow passengers to alert security to anti-social behaviour. It is important to have a more robust regime around anti-social behaviour. It has an effect on many people in different communities. It affects people of all ages including some of the most vulnerable in society. Many people now live in fear in particular parts of our country because of anti-social behaviour. We should send out a strong message that there is no need to tolerate it any longer. The Senator also mentioned the issue of the decriminalisation of drugs. I am happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, come to the House in that regard.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of Portiuncula Hospital, as did Senator Leyden, who has left the Chamber. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the Senator's first election to the Dáil as part of Jack Lynch's infamous wave in 1977. I congratulate him on that in his absence. Senator Hopkins has been an advocate of the 50-bed replacement block at Portiuncula Hospital. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the Army Ranger Wing going to Mali. As the Senator is aware the Dáil debated the matter last week. I understand the concerns about the mission expressed by many. It is not a decision a Government or Minister takes lightly or in isolation. I thank all of our troops from the Army Ranger Wing and wish them good speed and safekeeping in their mission.
Will we have a debate here on the matter?
It is not a matter for this House. The decision by the Minister is based upon advice given to him by the military, as the Senator knows quite well. Some 12 rangers are going and they will be working with a German contingent on intelligence gathering patrols. If the Senator wishes to raise any particular matters, I suggest it may be more expeditious to do so through a Commencement matter debate.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of work permits, on which Senator Boyhan also touched. It is a matter of concern. Huge gaps need to be addressed. The Minister is working on them and I am happy to have her come to the House in that regard.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017. Lest he again put up a video of me laughing, I was not laughing at the decision of the Dáil, I was laughing at the Senator's use of democracy. He can speak about playground politics but that is what he is playing here today, as he is entitled to. The matter is one for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the Ana Kriégel case. I will not make any comment other than that we offer our sympathies to the family. Many people are traumatised by the reporting of the case. There are victims today who are bereaved and suffering. As the Senator said, the matter is still before the courts.
Senators Bacik and Norris raised the issue of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which, as Senator Bacik said, targeted demand for prostitution.
It was about the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, not the selling of sex. A broad coalition of differing groups was in favour of the change we supported in this House. It is about advocating for women's rights and women. The survey quoted by Senator Norris was done on an app and I would question its validity. All of us want women protected. None of us condones or supports any attack on women, particularly in the case of sex workers who are violently attacked. If people understand anything, they should report these crimes to An Garda Síochána as a matter of urgency. The legislation also tackles trafficking. It is also about ensuring that there is accountability. None of us wants to go back to the debate on the Bill but the points made by Senator Bacik were well made.
Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of climate action. It is my intention that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment will come to the House in the coming weeks to have that debate if possible given the legislative timetable. I would make the point to Senator Norris, who was begrudging in his comments about the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, that Senators, Horkan, Bacik and Leyden made comments about the Bill while others on the Government side also spoke privately to the Minister and I about it. As I said yesterday, I will reflect upon it. I spoke with a number of Members along with the Minister and some of her advisory staff yesterday. This is a very important and sensitive Bill dealing with competing rights. I was not being in any way adversarial but if we are to achieve what people have failed to achieve over the past 20 years, we must listen and engage further. That is what the Minister is doing. I thank the House for its co-operation, particularly Senators Bacik and Horkan.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the INTO briefing earlier, which is an education matter, and the budget. The Minister will publish the summer economic statement soon and we will have a debate on that in due course. Comments were made about the IMF. I am sure that as part of the debate, the IMF can be referred to as well. I thank the Acting Chairman for his willingness to act as temporary Chair today and tomorrow. I hope he has a very successful tenure in the Chair. Perhaps it might be a forerunner to future activity.
I will try to walk before I try to run but I thank the Leader for his sentiments.