The Order of Business is No. a1, motion re appointment of members to the Legal Service Regulatory Authority, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate, and No. 1, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Leader has outlined that we will discuss Brexit, which is the issue of the day. The fact that RTÉ is committing the entire day to the investigation of what Brexit will do on the Border, in particular, means it is appropriate that we would raise it on the Order of Business as well as having the discussion on it later. The most recent pie-in-the-sky proposal, which is akin to its having-their-cake-and-eating-it proposal by the British Government-----
Is it a pie or a cake?
It appears to be a pie, a cake and a dog's dinner all at the same time. This new idea of having customs checks within ten miles of the Border was planned at least a year ago when the British Government brought in legislation where it could introduce stop, search and seizure within ten miles of the Border. That legislation passed in the Houses of Commons in 2017. This is not something it has just dreamt up; this is something it has been planning. It proposes to have customs checks and infrastructure on a border that is 499 km long and has between 308 and 310 crossings, which means a crossing approximately every mile. Let us bear in mind that between the European Union and all the countries to the east of it, there are only 138 border crossings on a 6,000 km long border, yet somehow the UK Government believes that the border crossings on this island can be managed and patrolled successfully in a customs union and a Single Market.
It is simply undoable. The report from two UNESCO chairs is more important to note, as is the fact that President Obama's senior policy adviser on countering violent extremism stated that if there was a hard border as a result of Brexit, there would be a return to violence on this island. The only question is about the scale of the violence. That message has not got through to those at Westminster, or if it has, they do not care. They simply do not care who lives or dies as a result of Brexit, as, sadly, has been shown in British opinion polls.
I congratulate the Government. This is the only time the House will hear me do so. The introduction of history back into the curriculum with special status by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh-----
It never left the curriculum.
Special status being granted means that it is now-----
Senator Mark Daly should continue to speak, without interruption.
Please allow him to make his point.
In fairness to him, it is an important point.
The Senator should not interrupt from that side of the House.
He should not interrupt me as I am praising the Government. Having history as a core subject has been Fianna Fáil's policy because people learn from history. It does not repeat itself so much as it rhymes and one has to spot the mistakes of the past. On German reunification Bismark said: “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” If we can look back and find out where people made mistakes in the past, we can learn from them. The study of history is vital in that regard.
I refer to the Moorhead report on the terms and conditions of councillors. We have seen a reduction in public representation throughout the country. The Moorhead report is on the Minister's desk, but the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform does not want it to be published because it would have to take action on the results and the budget is coming up. I ask the Leader to ensure the report is released before the budget is announced and that its recommendations, if appropriate, are actioned.
I remind Senators that we will have statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, a fuller name for Brexit, later this afternoon. They might want to conserve their energy for that debate.
I refer to the issue of Dún Laoghaire Harbour which was mentioned extensively in the national press today, particularly in The Irish Times. We had quite a hot debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who has overall responsibility for harbours and ports, about this issue on 3 October 2018. I recently printed and read the record of that debate. Many times in the past few years, in both this House and the Dáil, the Minister stated the harbour would not be a major liability on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the local government administrative area in which Dún Laoghaire is located. However, a special meeting was convened last night to discuss the liabilities with which Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council finds itself as a result of the Government's ports policy. As this issue will impact on a number of other ports around the country, there are lessons to be learned. I ask that we invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House because the issue now relates to local government, rather than ports. Last night the chief executive of the council and elected members of all parties and none voiced their concerns. They have confirmed that the council now has a debt of €33 million hanging around its neck, as well as additional running costs of around €800,000, a sum which has not been budgeted for. This will have an impact on the local authority, local property tax payers, a significant number of whom are constituents of the Minister, Deputy Ross, and commercial rate payers. The money has to be found and the debt paid. I would like to have a discussion on the huge impact the Government's ports policy will have on local authorities. It is important that we hear about the implications of the policy and hold a debate in the House at an appropriate time.
I endorse what Senator Mark Daly said about the Moorhead report. It is interesting in that Ms Sara Moorhead, SC, is the subject of a motion before the House today.
It is the subject of a motion we will debate in the House today. Those who have gone to the trouble of reading it will see that her name is on it. I would like her report to be published because I am tired of hearing people say they have not seen the report or that the Government has not seen it. I understand the report is complete. It can be timely for someone to say, "Don't send the report to my Department so I can go out and tell everyone I have not seen it." We do not need two years to pull together a report about councillors' remuneration and expenses. It is high time Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas united and made a strong case for fair pay and conditions for elected members in local government.
And in the Seanad.
That is exactly the reason, when we launched our alternative budget today, we allowed for a decrease in wages and salaries for Deputies and Senators. It was to ensure that an increase could be given to councillors. I am sure everybody here would agree with that, even Fianna Fáil Members.
Now we know where the €1.5 million is going.
No interruptions, please.
They are picking on me again, a Chathaoirligh.
Sometimes the Senator invites crossfire.
There needs to be fairness but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. People have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Today sees the launch of Sinn Féin's 2020 alternative budget. It is the ninth alternative budget from my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty. We look forward to the day when he will be Minister for Finance presenting the actual budget. This alternative budget is fair and ambitious. It is based on the premise that people should not live their lives squeezed between billing periods. Very simply, it demonstrates what Sinn Féin would do, how it would end the rip-off and give workers and families a break while securing Ireland's future if there is a crash-out Brexit, and even if there is not a crash-out Brexit.
We provide for a radical departure from the failed policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. These provisions include two free GP visits for every person without a medical card to ensure that nobody is delayed in going to the doctor because they are worried about the cost.
It was awful to see people in wheelchairs wearing wet gear outside the gate today in teeming rain asking for home care packages. There is something radically wrong when such action has to be taken.
This budget has also allowed for the introduction of an emergency freeze on rents and brings in rent relief, which would save renters the equivalent of one month's rent each year.
It also contains measures to end the insurance rip-off, first, in terms of the levies charged currently by Government that would bring down insurance costs by 5% but also in terms of the legislation needed to address the situation within that.
We would invest an additional €300 million to give people with disabilities and their families a break, including the introduction of free travel for children aged five to 18 and helping families by reducing the cost of childcare by an average of €100 per month.
Something is seriously wrong when the vast majority of people have less money in their pockets now than they did when Fine Gael, supported by Fianna Fáil, came into power three years ago. The reasons for that are obvious.
No. They had not-----
Tell that to the people protesting outside the gate. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are making bad short-term decisions that are costing the taxpayer billions of euro and they are failing to intervene to deal with the out of control costs.
Before anybody says it, and the Leader will probably say it when replying, everything in this alternative budget is fully costed. I ask people to read it to see how things can be done differently. It is fully costed. It shows that we can end up with a surplus and have a contingency fund. It would not be a rainy day fund where we would be constrained in how we use that but a fund that can deal with the issues of Brexit as well as everything else. My colleagues will talk about different aspects of this alternative budget when they contribute.
I do not intend to say very much about Brexit but I will say that Mr. Johnson's non-paper is a non-starter and a non-event. Every word out of his mouth brings a united Ireland closer.
I am not averse to that. Belfast is a rather nice little city and it would be good to have it back.
Following the very good debates we had on screening for genetic disorders, I have been preparing legislation in the area, which will considerably broaden the Irish screening programme. I have had excellent assistance from a parliamentary draftsperson and I pay tribute to that effort. I hope to introduce the legislation before Christmas. In the light of the debate we had, about which everybody on both sides of the House was positive, as well as the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I hope we can get the legislation through and do something to save the lives of 50 children a year who needlessly die.
I wish to raise an issue in respect of National Breastfeeding Week. I have raised many times in the House the lack of supports for women who wish to breastfeed but do not have the opportunity. One of the major concerns is Brexit, which is imminent. People might ask how it will affect breastfeeding but the only breastfeeding milk bank is in Northern Ireland. As yet, there is no clarity as to how mothers and infants in need will have access to the bank should a hard Brexit occur. While the photo on the front page of The Irish Times is welcoming, with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, launching National Breastfeeding Week, it should be remembered that UNICEF has criticised the HSE for withdrawing funds from the baby friendly health initiative, which had a major impact on improving the rates of breastfeeding in hospitals throughout the country, two years ago. In August, UNICEF was stinging in its criticism of the HSE for withdrawing the funding.
The rate of breastfeeding is now approximately 55%, which is quite low by European standards. Given that it is National Breastfeeding Week, I hope there will be more than photoshoots, such as a programme to support mothers and their infants throughout the country. Mothers in urban Ireland, through the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, receive considerable support but that becomes patchy as one moves out of the capital city. I would like there to be many more initiatives and more funding than photoshoots. It might be worthwhile, at some stage, to hold a full debate in the House on the low rates of breastfeeding in Ireland.
I sincerely congratulate all the groups that were successful in the TidyTowns competition, the results of which were announced yesterday by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. It is wonderful to see so many volunteers and committees that work tirelessly throughout the year to improve our local surroundings. It is important they are recognised for their work. Many volunteers give much energy, time, commitment and dedication to ensuring that our villages and towns look good, and give residents and visitors a sense of pride of place. It is very positive to see many towns and villages - not just the winners - improve in respect of the marks they were awarded. I congratulate all the groups throughout County Roscommon and east County Galway that were successful and have improved. It is important that TidyTowns groups be supported and it is positive that the Minister has allocated a further €1.4 million to support their work, which is not just about flower arrangements. There is a strong focus on recycling and biodiversity and TidyTowns groups constantly strive to do better in all the categories each year.
It is positive that the subject of history will be given special status in the junior cycle.
As we have heard, that decision was made by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, this morning. History is a very important subject for students. It allows them to learn valuable lessons from our past and to ensure further mistakes are not made. We are living history at the moment in respect of the challenges surrounding Brexit. It is important for students to learn from our past. We must ensure important lessons are taught and that we move in a better direction.
I am delighted to be able to stand here to celebrate the great news day in County Monaghan yesterday. Glaslough, County Monaghan, was named winner of the 2019 SuperValu national TidyTowns competition. It beat off competition from more than 918 entries nationally to take the award for Ireland's tidiest village and the overall national award for Ireland's tidiest town. It is the second time in Glaslough's history that it has scooped the overall award having first won the prestigious competition in 1978. It was great to be there last night to see some of the main organisers from the 1978 win celebrating again. Glaslough has a great record in the TidyTowns competition and in putting its best foot forward. It won the tidiest small village award last year and represented Ireland in the Entente Florale Europe Competition 2017, where it took first place also. It is a remarkable achievement for a small village and testament to the commitment, dedication, passion and hard work of the Glaslough TidyTowns committee and volunteers. One of the pleasing aspects of the win is the number of young people who were involved. The children from both local schools have embraced all that is good about Glaslough and TidyTowns and I was delighted to see so many of them at last night's event. They all look forward eagerly to the visit of President Higgins in June 2020 to celebrate their magnificent achievement. To continue the theme of good news for Monaghan, Carrickmacross in the south of the county came in the top three in the larger town category. Carrickmacross TidyTowns committee has also launched Ireland's first reverse vending machine for plastic bottles. It is a fantastic initiative for which the committee deserves great credit. I ask the Government to take note of the initiative, which is one which might be rolled out nationally.
It was great to see a local village and a local town in County Monaghan make the national news headlines for all the right reasons. It was a positive news story and it was uplifting to see. I pay tribute to the hard work that went into getting to that level in a competition. There were long hours over many years that were finally rewarded in Glaslough yesterday. As Senator Hopkins said in her contribution, there is more to TidyTowns than picking up litter and floral displays. There is biodiversity, recycling and much more involved and great credit is deserved for that. In my book, all 918 entrants to the competition are winners. As a society, we are deeply indebted for all of the voluntary work people put into TidyTowns. As I left Glaslough late last night after a very enjoyable event, I said I would invite the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and all Members of the Seanad to come and see for themselves the beauty the village has to offer. I am sure the people there will open their arms to Senators who would all be enriched by the visit.
I took great pride watching the TidyTowns programme last night on television.
It is a wonderful competition and I enjoyed seeing the various towns and villages throughout Ireland competing. They looked amazing and we should be very proud. It is a great competition that brings out the best of community efforts. I congratulate Senator Gallagher on the success of Glaslough, County Monaghan, but many other towns were also very close to the mark.
We should all take up the invitation Senator Gallagher has extended. The village is a leader for us all.
Perhaps there should be a special sitting of the Seanad there.
Now the Cathaoirleach is talking. Let us do it.
I wish, first, to congratulate the Minister for Education and Skills for his decision to have history at the centre of the curriculum. It is from where we come, who we are and, frankly, helps us move towards our destiny. I thought it was a fantastic initiative by the Minister to put a line in the sand and say history was important to who we were and what we were about.
There are two other matters I would like to bring to the attention of the House. The first is that last week I invited Rowing Ireland into the audio-visual room in Leinster House where it made a presentation. Senator O'Mahony was among those who were present. The representatives of Rowing Ireland also spoke to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. Rowing is a minority sport in Ireland, but it is the most successful Irish sport internationally. Four boats have qualified for the Olympic Games, even though Rowing Ireland receives less than one fifth of the funding provided in countries such as New Zealand. Rowing Ireland is in dire straits and in need of more money, but it is not only a matter of throwing money at the problem, it is also a matter of seeing how the Government spends the money. The greyhound industry receives roughly €16 million per year. Rowing receives €600,000 per year. There is something wrong. This is not a political matter and I want everyone to come together. Let us invest in the people and give our rowers a fair crack of the whip. Some 30,000 kids in Ireland are rowing on a weekly basis; it is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and especially popular in County Cork where the Leader is from.
The second matter I wish to raise is insurance. The more I bring up this topic, the more small businesses and communities approach me and say they cannot keep going. Everyone here knows of local communities that have to close down or cannot continue their summer festival because of the cost of insurance. I understand what Senator Conway-Walsh is saying about insurance. We must do something radical. IPB Insurance which insures most, if not all, city and county councils in Ireland is processing an estimated €436 million worth of claims. How many social houses could be built and how many people could be taken off the streets with that money? How many hospital wards could be opened and how many doctors could be employed with it? It is about how we spend money. I am not saying all of the claims are not legitimate, but there is certainly a percentage of them that are not. What can we do? I recently introduced the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, supported by my colleagues, Senators Boyhan and McDowell. The Bill passed through the Seanad with uniform support and is now before the Dáil. I ask each Senator to influence his or her colleagues in the Dáil to have the Bill pass through as speedily and quickly as possible. Let us push it on to get it done and finished. It does not only cover insurance, it also covers telling lies under oath.
I agree with Senators Mark Daly, Hopkins and others. I am delighted with the decision of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to give history special status in the junior certificate curriculum. The Cathaoirleach may recall that in 2015, when this was first mooted, I tabled a Private Member's motion which received unanimous support from all sides of the House.
That spoke volumes about the importance of where Seanad Éireann considered the subject of history and the fact that this motion came from the Seanad which in itself is a very historical Chamber. As the issue had not been dealt with I tabled a further motion in the new Seanad, this Seanad, in 2017. That motion again received unanimous support. I have received correspondence from history teachers, lovers and advocates from all over the country following those two Private Members' motions. I am glad that within a week of the Minister, Deputy McHugh, taking up the position as Minister for Education and Skills, he ordered a review. He was not too pleased with the results of the review nor was anybody else. We absolutely respect the importance of information and computer technology, ICT, science and mathematics in attracting foreign direct investment and of upskilling and providing further skills to our young people but absolutely not at the expense of our culture and history, who we are, how we were formed, how history evolved and created the society that we have today: both the good and the bad. That is equally as important as science and technology and all the other modern subjects that have a very important role to play in our education system.
The Minister used his ministerial powers to do the right thing. Seanad Éireann through my two motions which were tabled in 2015 and 2017, played a vital role in highlighting this issue, keeping it on the agenda and giving it a narrative that was extremely important. The decision is the correct decision.
There was an article last week on 24 September by Kevin Doyle of the Irish Independent which said that there was a new decentralisation plan to allow civil servants to move out of the capital to the regions. I welcome the initiative by the Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran, who suggested that there should be a full review in the budget of the benefit of a decentralisation scheme. He suggested Athlone, which was hardly a surprise, and Sligo, areas he felt would benefit from a regional point of view.
The decentralisation initiative taken some years ago was a great success, contrary to the negative point of view raised by the Fine Gael Party, in particular, which never wanted decentralisation. I was very proud to be involved, as a Teachta Dála, in arranging to bring about the decentralisation of the office of the Registrar of Deaths, Births and Marriages to Convent Road, Roscommon, in beautiful new offices and the Land Registry office to the Golf Links Road.
I thought the late Seán Doherty had done that.
These have brought great benefit to the town of Roscommon. Seán Doherty and I certainly worked together as a team. I recommend that Senator Conway works with his team down in Clare-----
I call on Senator Conway not to make any more interruptions, which might be more beneficial.
Decentralisation has brought great regional benefits to towns like Carrick-on-Shannon, Longford, Castlerea, to which the Prison Service decentralised a prison facility, Sligo, Letterkenny and Cavan. They have all benefitted greatly. The point made by the Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran, was that with the great difficulty concerning office space in Dublin and accommodation, there is great potential in the further decentralisation of sections of Departments. We have adequate space in Roscommon to bring about a further decentralisation. I recommend strongly that this be given careful consideration. In the Land Registry offices recently I met an individual who was all the way from Ennis, County Clare, who had come to Roscommon to check on his registration. The office is providing a tremendous service there for the public.
On the issue of decentralisation, there is a lot to be said for a review of the checking-in system which obtains in the Dáil and the Seanad. Some people are better off being engaged on their computer and registering the fact that they are active working certain days in their offices, the credit for which Members should be allowed.
Sometimes it is a question of the use of space and technology. We should be the first to use technology to improve the situation here in Leinster House which in relation to climate alone, would save a good deal of emissions from diesel and petrol. Will the Leader arrange a discussion on this with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to see where exactly he is going. There is space. I am sure my colleagues from Roscommon loved decentralisation but none of them ever supported it.
I wish to reiterate Senator Conway's remarks. I was the main speaker on holding history as a core subject in 2015. I cannot believe that the Senators are all congratulating themselves. It was an appalling decision by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, which was capitulated on by the great Labour and Fine Gael Government. It actually thought about it. It was one of the most unedifying, uneducated decisions to take history as a core subject and make it into a discrete, non-core, non-compulsory short course choice, which is what the NCCA was doing. Instead of arguing the brilliance of the subject, it was listing formulaic verbs which it hoped anything and everything would fit into. Now we are running around congratulating ourselves that the Minister has had the wit to reverse it. He would not have been the Minister for Education and Skills had he not had the wit to reverse it. What the NCCA was doing was wholly unedifying, uneducational and ridiculous. Everyone knows that the world's history is the world's judgment. If young people do not know the world's history, they will not know how to judge it or themselves. We are reversing back on ourselves and, having listened to the NCCA, we are now congratulating ourselves on our decision.
This morning, I chaired a conference of Home and Community Care Ireland, HCCI, which includes organisations such as Home Instead. It was very edifying and a very illuminating event. It was attended by hundreds of people who work in the area. I wish to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who was outstanding in his remarks about what we need, the amalgamation of services and independent living and the different aspects of independent living and on ageing in Ireland. I will be sorry to see him leave politics. In two years, he grasped a complete and absolute sense of what we need to keep people in their homes in a thousand different ways when they are able to do so. I wanted to congratulate him. I also hope that the healthcare assistants and all pertaining to homecare hours will be looked at very favourably in the budget, as it is the most pressing area of life in Ireland now.
I wish to support a point raised by my colleague, Senator Ó Céidigh, on minority sports in Ireland and specifically the rowers of Ireland, who are now ranked second in the world in terms of their success, despite their lack of funding. They have made the point that depending on when individual rowers qualify, they might not be funded for another six or nine months. Particularly in an Olympic year, they need the resources and funding to prepare properly. One rower, a qualified doctor, had to return to work to fund some of his training. They must pay part of the fee for their training camps abroad. One might compare that with the funding for the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, and the pay-off in the past ten or 15 years to three or four CEOs.
In recent years the FAI asked for an advance of its funding - I know it is stopped at the moment - and it was granted. It is ridiculous that rowers preparing for the Olympic Games must wait until the following years. Rowing is just one example of a minority sport that is struggling. It needs increased support.
I echo the pleas Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made about personal assistance services and home care supports. These are key proposals within the pre-budget submission of the Oireachtas disability group, of which I am proud to be a member.
I also welcome the proposal to ensure that history is a fundamental part of every citizen's understanding and skills for the shaping of the future. I commend Senator Conway on highlighting the issue in the past. I am happy to accept a reversal when there is a positive reversal of policy. It is a positive reversal of policy.
My key concern is an area where we also need a reversal of policy. Ireland is proposing as one of its special projects of common interest and one of the key proposals we are putting forward the obtaining of special support from the European Union for a liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal in Shannon. When we talk about major projects of common interest, we in Ireland, at a time like now in the wake of Brexit, could be talking about our ports, a major scaling-up in public transport, a completely new approach to public housing or a completely new approach to connectivity with the rest of Europe. We are proposing instead, however, the importation of fracked gas into an LNG terminal in Shannon as one of our key projects for which we want the EU to support us.
It is such hypocrisy. This is about revisiting decisions and looking at them in a new light. When this was originally proposed, we had not banned fracking on our shores. We have since banned it because we recognise the enormous environmental, climate change and health impacts of fracking for shale gas. Why then would we inflict it on the rest of the world and import it from the rest of the world when we know the impact it has on carbon emissions? This is part of a lack of joined-up thinking where we are supposedly divesting from fossil fuels but still giving licences for gas exploration in Ireland even though gas is a fossil fuel. I urge the Leader to take this to Government to reconsider what we put forward as special projects of common interests and perhaps have a debate in this House as to what we believe may be projects of national and European common interest. We certainly need to go back to the drawing board on this.
Like Senator Ó Céidigh, I raise the issue of insurance, a topic on which I have had legislation introduced in the Seanad. During the summer we passed the Judicial Council Bill. It came back from the Lower House with some amendments. The Minister for Justice and Equality introduced it but the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, brought it through the House. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the Seanad to report on any updates on some of the sections within that Bill. A key amendment from the Dáil reduced from six months to three months the time for setting up the committee to look into the cost of awards. The Alliance for Insurance Reform and others have called for a reduction in the level of awards being made by the courts.
Is there reluctance on the part of the Judiciary to bring forward the committee to deal with these issues? Every day of the week people receive their insurance premiums in the post. I noticed mine has increased. If mine has gone up so has that of everyone else. This is because either the insurance companies are making excessive profits or they are relating it back to the amount of claims. A certain number of judges are highlighting fraudulent claims. When solicitors bring fraudulent or unwarranted claims before the courts something must be done about them, whether they are struck off or face another punishment. It would deter other solicitors from bringing forward claims that are fraudulent or from looking for excessive awards. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House so we can have a debate on it? Let us find out what progress has been made on the Judicial Council Bill.
Last night, I watched with utter disbelief the leaks of the non-paper on replacing the backstop with customs posts along the Border. This is absolutely farcical and it simply would not work. A solution cannot be imposed on the island of Ireland unless the people on the island of Ireland are in agreement. I welcome that today Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, has distanced himself-----
Earlier I stalled somebody because after the Order of Business we will have a two-hour debate on Brexit. People looked for a debate last week and got it and we will wonder how many will turn up to contribute to it.
I understand that and I will speak during the debate. However, I felt this was very important-----
I do not want to rehash it again because I already-----
My apologies. I was not here when the Cathaoirleach made his ruling. I was not aware of it.
I will move on to decentralisation. Senator Leyden is absolutely right that we need a new emphasis on decentralisation. We cannot just have decentralisation throughout the country while senior civil servants have to live in Dublin. Now is the time to have the political capital in Dublin and the administrative capital in one of the regions. There is no better region than Sligo and the north west. I genuinely believe this because the motorways go to Galway and Belfast but nothing goes to the north west. It takes me three hours to go by train from Sligo to Dublin. It takes two hours to go from Cork to Dublin. We speak about Brexit and various issues, and the north west needs this. We need different thinking if we are to have a political capital in Dublin but an administrative capital elsewhere. It happens in other countries. A man called John Mulligan has come up with an idea that should be pushed much further. If we want regeneration and decentralisation and to save the west and the north west this would be a huge initiative.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me in. I was watching on the monitor. I want to raise briefly the contraceptive scheme spoken about by the Minister. I anticipate there will be something in the budget on it. I hope the scheme will be universal and will include all methods of contraception. In my opinion, it will not be sufficient to allow only the contraceptive pill; long acting contraceptive methods need to be included. They cost more initially but they work out to be more cost-effective, not to mention how effective they are. I do not think we will have an opportunity to have a discussion on the matter in the House in advance of the budget but it is certainly an issue on which I hope the Minister will be successful in his negotiations with the Minister for Finance and that we will see a universal scheme introduced that can be built upon if necessary. At worst, it should be introduced incrementally. I cannot ask for the Minister to come in to discuss it because it would be too soon.
It is not for me to tell the Leader how to do his job but he is aware of my position on the Brexit debate which he facilitated.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. I thank the 16 Senators for their contributions to the Order of Business. I will begin by welcoming the rehabilitation of Senator Mark Daly to the Front Bench of the Fianna Fáil Party as the new Acting Leader of the Opposition. He is welcome back.
To clarify, he never left us.
I thank the Leader.
It is good to see him in the front seat again.
He has been in the front seat all of the time.
I am not sure how much longer he will be there.
The Leader should go to Specsavers.
He is in the driving seat.
I am not sure whether it is to new Fianna Fáil, old Fianna Fáil or continuity Fianna Fáil, but Senator Mark Daly is welcome back.
We are Fianna Fáil - The Republican Party.
The Whip will confirm that Senator Mark Daly has been a member of the Front Bench in the Seanad.
The Cathaoirleach has ruled judiciously on the Brexit issue and we will hold a debate with the Tánaiste, but it would be remiss of me as Leader if I did not respond to Senators Mark Daly, Norris and Feighan, who raised the matter. I welcome the Prime Minister's clarification and how he has distanced himself from the non-paper comments. It is important that the UK negotiates in good faith. We all stand firm in our desire for there to be no custom checks against the will of the people, North or South. The Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, have been clear on that point. I commend my constituency colleague, the Tánaiste, on his steadfastness and clarity in the negotiations and on the position he has taken. As the Cathaoirleach stated, we will debate the matter at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Senators Mark Daly, Higgins, Hopkins, Ó Céidigh and Marie-Louise O'Donnell made reference to the-----
And Senator Conway.
Sorry. Senators Mark Daly, Conway, Ó Céidigh, Hopkins, Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Higgins made reference to the decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to make history a special status subject on the junior cycle. For all of us who engaged on the matter, be it through speaking in the House, as I did last week, or advocating with the Minister, and speaking as a teacher and educationalist for 16 or so years, the importance of history to the curriculum was never underemphasised. I do not share some of the opinions expressed by Senators. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, has a role to play. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell may pooh-pooh it,-----
It was appalling.
-----as is her prerogative, but its job is to advise. The Minister's job is to make decisions. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy McHugh, he has done so.
This Minister knows.
Sorry. The previous Minister.
Allow the Leader, without interruption.
The Minister for Education and Skills has made a decision, which we all commend.
These are back-handed congratulations. He should be considering the matter more realistically.
I am not going to be provoked by the Senator other than to say that it was a good decision by the Minister and one that we all welcome. It also, by the way-----
It was a capitulation. It had to be reversed-----
Is the Senator having a conversation?
-----because it was so unedifying.
Please, allow the Leader to respond. He has listened for the past hour to Senators making points and comments and he rarely, if ever, interjects. Allow him to respond, which is his job.
Give the Leader an opportunity to rewrite history.
Senator Wilson and I had the pleasure of doing ecclesiastical history together. We understand the importance of-----
Then the Leader understands what-----
Regardless of whether we were good or bad students, what history does-----
The Senators were a loss to the Roman Catholic Church.
We were not lost at all. We are still there.
The Catholic Church's loss is the Seanad's gain.
The church moved from some of us, Senator Leyden.
It would have been one way for the Leader to become a minister. It would have been the nearest he got to it.
In its present composition, the junior cycle has a firm focus on core learning. To me, history is fundamental to that.
And to me.
Senators Mark Daly, Boyhan and Conway-Walsh referenced the Moorhead report. Be it as members of the electorate or as members of political bodies, we all understand the importance of politics and representation at local and national levels while also recognising the gargantuan change in the workload and commitment of those elected to local councils.
I join Members in calling for fair pay and conditions for councillors. Members on all sides of this House have been articulating and advocating on this issue with a variety of Ministers. There is a folly in the Sinn Féin position yet again. Sinn Féin thrives on polarising people. Councillors versus Senators and Deputies and Senators and Deputies versus councillors is not a way to do business.
It is about fairness and equality. It is not polarising.
The Sinn Féin Party thrives on dividing and conquering.
It is not polarising. How can the Leader say it is polarising in the context of-----
Sinn Féin pits one group against another group. That is what it does. In this case, we must not divide and conquer. Rather we must work together to ensure that arising out of the Moorhead report, councillors receive just and fair pay.
That is what we should do.
Take the €1.5 million from the will.
We could pay all of the councillors in the country with that amount.
Senators are being very generous.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the article about Dún Laoghaire Harbour and pier. I have not seen it. I suggest to the Senator that a Commencement matter might be a more appropriate way of having the issue addressed. As I said, I have not seen the article. We have had a debate on harbours and ports policy but I am happy to have the Minister return to the House on the matter.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Sinn Féin pre-budget submission, which I thank her for bringing to the House. Yet again, it is fantasy.
Has the Leader read it?
What part of it is fantasy?
I can tell the Senator-----
I do not want the Leader to go into the detail of the full document.
I assure the Cathaoirleach-----
The Leader could meet Senator Conway-Walsh privately to discuss it.
I would be happy to do so.
It is not in the Oireachtas Library.
If it were to be placed in the Oireachtas Library one would not know whether to put it in the fantasy section, the fiction section or the finance section. Sinn Féin is proposing an increase in tax on jobs and business and its members are becoming climate change deniers.
That is lies.
As we are not having a full debate on the Sinn Féin proposal perhaps we should refrain from attempted summarising of it.
I will try to chair the proceedings as best I can. The budget will be announced next week when, I am sure, there will be a fulsome debate.
To be helpful to Senator Higgins, whom I did not interrupt, Sinn Féin is proposing €2.8 billion in new taxes and 18 new taxes. For example, in terms of inheritance tax it is proposing the imposition of an additional €3,240 on a person who inherits a four bedroom house. That is some record.
That is nonsense and the Leader knows it.
Senator Norris made reference to the genetics disorder Bill. I look forward to working with him on it. Senator Humphreys has been very strong in his advocacy around the issue of breastfeeding in terms of national breast feeding week and the fact that six out of ten babies are breast-fed. The Minister recently launched a campaign recognising that more resources need to be put in place. I am happy to make time available for a debate on the issue.
Senators Hopkins and Gallagher raised the issue of TidyTowns. I join with both Members in congratulating the overall victor of the TidyTowns competition, Glaslough. I also congratulate the 118 entrants and all who participate in TidyTowns, including the volunteers. As mentioned by Senators Hopkins and Gallagher, TidyTowns is not just about collecting litter, it is about biodiversity, planting and the whole public realm. Many of those involved are volunteers. I congratulate them on their endeavour. I also congratulate the community of Carrickmacross on the reverse vending machine and the Minister, Deputy Ring, for his allocation of an additional €1.4 million to the TidyTowns initiative and I thank SuperValu for its sponsorship. TidyTowns is a wonderful voluntary initiative.
Senators Ó Céidigh and Anthony Lawlor referenced the issue of insurance. I am happy to arrange a debate on the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy.
Senators Ó Céidigh and O'Mahony raised the equally important issue of rowing and the need for the funding of rowing to be put on a upwards trajectory given the unprecedented success in this area. It is a matter that I am sure the Minister, Deputy Ross, and Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, are familiar with. Mr. John Treacy, the chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, is aware of it. It is a matter in the main for the Irish Sports Council.
I would not like to see Senator Ó Céidigh putting one sport against another. The greyhound industry has been very valuable to our country and just this week, the Irish Laurels began in Cork and we have seen a large effort by the greyhound industry to bring together new sponsorship under the leadership of Mr. Jimmy Barry Murphy. I hope the people in Cork will support the Laurels, as they did in Dublin with the Irish Greyhound Derby.
Senators Leyden and Feighan spoke of decentralisation and I am happy to have a debate on the matter in the context of the remarks of the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. Notwithstanding what Senator Leyden read from his script, the decentralisation process announced by the former Minister, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, was not a success.
It worked in some places.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised yet again the very important matter of home care in the community, independent living and our ageing population. I encourage all Members to read the report compiled by the Senator, as it offers a template or foundation for future policy initiatives for Governments to make, whatever their composition. We are living longer and we are trying to live at home as we age. We must accentuate the home care elements and I hope the budget looks favourably on that matter.
Senator Higgins mentioned liquid petroleum. As the Senator knows, an alternative view has been put forward by the Irish Academy of Engineering. There is a need to recognise that as we move towards a carbon-neutral future and a change in how we live, there is a need for energy security. By 2030, if we go down one road, we would be completely dependent on the United Kingdom for natural gas. Extraction from the Kinsale field will end by 2021 and by 2025, the Corrib field will only provide 20% of our required supply. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter raised by Senator Higgins.
Senator Noone raised the very important matter of a contraceptive scheme and this arises from matters discussed at the committee she eloquently and expertly chaired. Her comments make eminent sense and I hope the Minister for Finance recognises there is more than one method of contraception. There should not just be a focus on the pill, as Senator Noone has indicated. There are other methods that can be far more cost-effective. I am happy to have that debate in a budget discussion with the Minister, when we might also look at the forthcoming finance Bill.