The Order of Business is No. 1, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I congratulate my own parish and local hurling club, Clonkill. Over the weekend, we were lucky enough to come out the better side when we met Senator Paul Daly’s parish and club in the Westmeath hurling final.
The Senator is going to rub it in now.
Clonkill were the victors on the day and I congratulate all involved.
Hear, hear. Why was it not on Sky News?
The Senator has the news here fresh. It is a personalised news service for him.
While I have been slightly upstaged by my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, earlier today, will the Leader explain the resignation of Paul Quinn from the development board of the new children’s hospital? Mr. Quinn led the procurement reform programme across the public sector. The troubling fiasco of the national children’s hospital was one of his greatest concerns, however. Will the Leader brief us on this?
On a local issue, it has been proposed that a regional sludge centre will be located at the existing sewerage works in Mullingar, County Westmeath. However, these are based in the town and there are serious concerns about the amount of sludge that could be brought to this facility as a result. It will be quite large as it will serve the whole Leinster region. The existing plant is located in a built-up area and local residents have concerns, including the effects on drinking water quality. It will be located near the Brosna River which feeds into many of the water supplies in the midlands. It would be a bad mistake by Irish Water to locate this facility in Mullingar. There are many other modern facilities which are not built in the middle of towns. The Mullingar plant is in the middle of the town and it is anything but the appropriate place. Will the Leader address this matter?
I welcome the announcement by the Chinese Government of the major deal which has been struck on beef exports into new markets in China. In this regard, I also welcome the co-operation of Bord Bia and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
To give him credit, the Minister has done much work in collaboration with his officials in the Department and other State agencies to break into the important market of China. It raises the question as to what the potential in the Asian market is. I read in a newspaper this morning how there is a major issue regarding the production of pork and swine flu and other related agricultural diseases that have been impacting enormously on China and the rest of Asia in the past few weeks. Pork was not even mentioned in the recent release on this announcement concerning beef exports to China. There is potential, particularly for the development of new markets in Asia. The acceptance of the market for Irish beef indicates the high quality of our beef, which is predominantly grass fed, and the importance of traceability and quality over price. This is one of the major things that have come out of this announcement. They are looking for high-quality beef that is traceable.
It is important to say that farmers must also experience and see the benefits of these additional markets and contracts. One of the problems about which we hear, particularly with regard to the Beef Plan Movement, concerns the fact that there are members of the beef plan organisation who feel they will not get a fair share and will not be able to contribute to these markets. New markets are great news for beef but the price must be reflected down the chain, which is a problem. We know about the politics surrounding beef in the past few months, for example, who is and is not making the money, the conflicts around that and the primary producers. I acknowledge the enormous work done by the Minister in this area. There is significant potential for the development of the market. I reiterate the importance of working closely with the Beef Plan Movement and its members, who do not want to be victimised as a result of their protests or to be locked out of this lucrative market. They want to be incorporated and to have equal access and an equal opportunity to contribute to feeding these new growing markets. Any equitable return must manifest itself across the sector, particularly in respect of the primary producers and farmers, because if this does not happen, what is all this about the announcement? If we are to see a beefing up of or a new impetus given to the beef industry, it is important that everyone has a crack at it and an opportunity to compete to feed into these new markets.
I call Senator McFadden.
Will I let others go before me?
My apologies, I got the wrong name. I call Senator Conway-Walsh.
I know the Acting Chairman does not want to hear what I have to say.
No, we do not.
The Senator can stick his fingers in his ears
I am always anxious to hear what the Senator has to say.
We want to see the Senator smile. What emerges from her mouth has no significance.
We can do the rebuttal if you do it before us.
I think the House can guess what I want to talk about. We need to talk about the significance for the Oireachtas of the revelations regarding voting behaviour last week.
I apologise for not calling the Senator when I should have. I was looking at the wrong list. Electronic voting and what happened in the Lower House are not matters for the Leader of this House. Thankfully, we have no difficulty with electronic voting in this House so I would appreciate it if colleagues would leave that matter to the Lower House and the Committee on Procedure of that House. If somebody here has a concern, he or she can raise it through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or his or her representative on that body.
With all due respect and respect for the procedures of this House, I think this is an extremely important matter that needs to be discussed within this Chamber.
I am not disputing the fact that it is important but it is not a matter for the Leader.
Is the Acting Chairman saying that we are not allowed to discuss in this House?
What I am saying is that what happens in the Lower House is not a matter for the Leader of this House or the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of this House. I am only pointing that out. If the Senator wants to make a general comment-----
I will make some general comments about it.
I feel I need to because our democracy is predicated on one person, one vote. There are Senators here who might think that does not apply to them-----
It does not apply to me. I have votes in university constituencies.
-----and say they are all at it, in a bid to revive the Teflon cloak that has kept them going throughout the years. The question is what would happen if an ordinary citizen rocked up to a polling booth and voted for somebody else or voted twice.
It has happened.
The Garda would be called. Voting twice for an absent colleague is not normal practice. I will talk about this Chamber. It is very different for one of us to come in here and sit in someone else's seat and to press the button for somebody who is here, but where somebody is not in the Chamber, those doors are locked for a reason. They are locked and the Senators inside the doors are legally entitled to vote. It is very serious in the context of how many times it has happened and whether this practice of voting has ever affected the passage of legislation.
If the Acting Chairman, Senator Wilson, will not discuss it here today, I would ask the Leader to allow time to discuss the issue of voting within the Chamber at another time. It is wrong to try and swat it away as though it is not important. I look forward to the full investigation of falsification of votes across whatever Chamber it might be. We cannot merely ignore it and carry on as if it were business as usual.
I refer to the 70,000 semi-State pensioners from Bord na Móna, ESB, RTÉ, CIÉ, Bord Gáis, Eircom, Coillte, aviation, and port and docks. These are pensioners across all the constituencies who devoted their working lives for the benefit of the State. They provided the nation's electricity, gas, peat, radio, television, telecommunications, aviation and myriad other State services that we all take for granted. They are represented by the retired semi-State staff associations, which presented in the audiovisual room this morning. I acknowledge Deputy Bríd Smith and others for gathering there but there were so few people there this morning. This is an enormously important issue, as Senators will see when there is a demonstration outside the gates here again tomorrow. It is wrong that the rights under the contract of employment of these pensioners, because they are former workers, are ignored. These pensioners have nowhere to go. They do not have any body or organisation to which to refer grievances. The 12-month time bar is a ludicrous impediment to these workers seeking justice under the equality tribunal in the same way that the industrial relations, unions and pension authorities all close the door on thousands of former workers seeking the address of their grievances.
This legislation must be changed. It is not about acquiring public money for these people. As they stated this morning, these pensioners just want their own money back, but under current legislation there is no obligation on employers to fund deficits in their pension schemes and there is no real protection for these pensioners against efforts by solvent employers to renege on their responsibility to their pension schemes and to address a fund deficit. The proposed new legislation, which was introduced in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017, is an opportunity for the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, to introduce full legal protection for pensioners, and there has to be financial consequences for solvent employers who abdicate responsibility for their pension schemes and fail to make contributions to resolving pension fund deficits. The debt on the employer concept for the amount of the unresolved pension fund deficit is urgently required and must be enshrined in pension law without further delay.
Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to address this issue specifically? It cannot continue. These people have had no pay increase whatever since 2008. Moreover, a 2.5% lifelong levy has been imposed on them while there have been increases in the cost of living and so on. Many must look to benevolent funds just to survive. It is wrong that we should treat former workers like that.
I call Senator Bacik.
Senator Norris is ahead of me.
I am glad to be in front of Senator Bacik because the first thing I want to do is congratulate her on being nominated and awarded Irish woman lawyer of the year. She is a terrific lawyer who has been immensely courageous ever since she was a student in Trinity at a time when it was neither popular nor profitable to lead movements towards the advancement of abortion. I honour my colleague and suggest that the House does likewise.
I also wish to raise an extraordinary document that I have received from Allied Irish Banks, pimping, prying and squinting into every conceivable aspect of my financial life. I have no idea what this is. It is supposed to be something to do with European law but it looks to me as though Allied Irish Banks is looking for a hell of a lot more information than it is entitled to under the law. I wish to register a protest against this appalling, creeping bureaucracy. Apparently, I am a PEP, a politically exposed person. It is all about money laundering. What kind of imbeciles do they think we are? If we were setting about money laundering, would we do it under our own names, through our own bank accounts? I hardly think that it would be a very clever criminal who would do so. It asks about basic annual income, allowances and benefits, variable income, whether I have other income, rent, pensions, investments, company profits and so on. It asks about the source of wealth, account information, NSC, account number, account type, purpose of account, why the account has been opened, whether it is daily banking, savings or investments, receipt of rental income, payment of salary, credit or lending facility, other, in which case please give details. What is the source of funds? Where is the money coming from? Is it salary, pensions, sale of asset or other, social welfare payment, rental income, savings, or investments? It asks for the estimated annual turnover and gives a raft of options.
Parenthetically, I might also raise another extraordinary announcement that I am amazed has not been picked up. There is a suggestion by some sort of income review board that some of the top civil servants should be given pay increases that are more than the entire salaries paid to Members of this House. In some cases, it is almost twice the amount. What are we at in this country where we give civil servants a pay increase twice that of Senators' salaries? I appeal to the powers that be to get rid of all these bloody allowances, the need for accountants and certified accountants, and so on - they would drive a person bewildered - and give us the rate for the job. They should establish some kind of independent assessor and let them say what we are worth and we will take that.
AIB asked that where the source of funds had a cash element, I should please provide actual or projected annual turnover of cash. How frequently would money be lodged? Would it be once-off, every two weeks, every week, every month-----
Is the Senator looking for a debate on this?
Yes, I am, absolutely, and I am having part of the debate now. The bank asks my relationship with the PEP. If it is someone connected to me, he or she must also give all their information. It is absolute bureaucratic madness. The bank seeks a customer declaration. I must certify the accuracy and undertake to inform the bank various things. Well, I do not. I referred this correspondence to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. Surely to God, rather than giving commercially sensitive information to a private enterprise before being blistered with proposals for life assurance and every other damn product, it should be given to SIPO or some independent body. When I wrote to SIPO, it responded that this was not considered under its rules. Why would it not be?
It is not a job for SIPO.
Why would it not be? It is standards in public office.
It has nothing to do with SIPO.
I thank Senator Norris.
Standards in public office is what they are talking about.
In any event, I am fed up with the whole thing and I feel like throwing it in the bin. I advise everybody else not fill it out but to refer it to the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform and tell him to put it into his in-tray in advance of the increases of more than twice our annual income.
I would add to the concerns expressed earlier in regard to defined benefit schemes in respect of the semi-State companies. In 2016, we proposed an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill which would have addressed some of those anomalies. It was an opportunity to do it in a timely way and it is very regrettable that, for the last three years, we have not seen promised legislation to give security, particularly where there are solvent companies that failed to have regard to the needs of the pensioners for whom they are responsible.
I want to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment or the Taoiseach to address and engage with this House specifically in regard to the inclusion of the proposed liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal at Shannon in the European projects of common interest. Since the LNG terminal was first proposed, the debate has changed and what we understand and know has changed. Since we first discussed this proposal, for example, Ireland has signed up to the Paris climate targets, which are global targets. We have acknowledged the damage done by fracking and, therefore, banned it in terms of hydraulic fracturing in our own State, so we should not be facilitating it elsewhere. We have also made commitments to fossil fuel divestment. It is deeply inconsistent with both of those policies at a national level that we would, effectively, be those who come to the aid of the stranded assets of fracked gas, largely from the United States, and, more specifically, Pennsylvania - in fact, we hear that up to two thirds of the LNG for Shannon may come from the latter - and that we would contribute to climate change.
There is yet another new reason, if such a reason were needed, to remove this terminal from the projects of common interest. That is the testimony we heard just two weeks ago at the Joint Committee on Climate Action, where Dr. Robert Howarth of Cornell University, who has been cited 2,700 times and is the world expert on shale gas, spoke specifically about the damage that is done during the extraction of this gas and when it is being transported. I refer to the leaking of methane, which is contributing to 1 W per square metre of global warming currently and, crucially, the fact the Earth's climate system responds more quickly to methane than to carbon dioxide. What that means is methane, which is a key by-product of the fracking process, is absorbed and causes warming at a quicker rate, so, while it does not stay as long in the atmosphere, its impact is more immediate.
This, and all the other science, has put the lie to the idea of gas as a transition fuel. It is not a transition fuel; it is an accelerant. It is shortening the period in which we have to act in respect of so many other areas. For example, if we wish to change in a proper, just transition way our agricultural processes, we must make sure we are not losing space in those areas to make the transitions we need by adding a new, unnecessary element into the mix in terms of fracked gas.
A just transition is needed. In that context, there is the opportunity for the Taoiseach to act because, up to tomorrow, Wednesday, 23 October, this State still has the opportunity to remove the LNG terminal from the European projects of common interest. Regardless of how people feel about that project, and even if they are in favour of the terminal, we do not need to tie ourselves into this being the highest priority for Ireland at European level, with the highest priority access to our electricity grid and to the energy grid across Europe. I urge action by 23 October. I would like the Taoiseach or the Minister to come to the House today and I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to that effect.
We are all concerned about the housing crisis.
Nobody thinks it is okay for families to live in hotels or bed and breakfasts. It is not okay for parents to have to get their children up at 6.30 a.m. in a hotel, put them in civvy clothes, bring them downstairs to the dining room, feed them their breakfast, then bring them back upstairs, put on their uniforms and take them on two buses to get to school just because the hotel does not want children in school uniforms in the dining room in the morning. It is not okay.
We know that the biggest problem with housing is supply. No social housing was built for more than 15 years and that is why we have a crisis now. Houses are being built and more will be built this year. That is not enough, however. There are other ways in which we can help to ease this problem. One such aspect was contained in the action plan for housing developed by the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney. I refer to the repair and lease scheme. That is a really good idea because there are many houses and flats over businesses empty and in a state of disrepair. A small amount of money would repair those units and allow them to be put into use. That is not happening, however. I drive down the quays on Wednesday or Thursday evening and I glance up and see empty housing units over businesses at street level. I always wonder why those properties are vacant and why are families not living in them. Last night's edition of "Claire Byrne Live" showed families living in hotels. That does not work and I cannot understand why that is the case.
I raised this issue previously with the Minister and he informed me of the vacant homes officers appointed to each local authority. Those officers are supposed to go around, find out why houses are vacant, find out if they can be put back into use and then help put them back into use. That does not seem to be working, however. I would like the Minister to come to this House and talk us through this issue. There is much bureaucracy and red tape. In the old days, vacant homes officers would take practical steps to get people into these homes. Now, there seem to be many more bureaucratic requirements to be gone through, including different forms and criteria to be met. That is happening when many people have to live in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts. It is not good enough.
I ask, therefore, that the Leader use his good offices to see if the Minister will come to the House to have a discussion on the repair and lease scheme, with particular focus on the vacant homes officers in each county. My home county of Westmeath, for example, needs more than one vacant homes officer to look after Athlone, Mullingar, Kilbeggan and Moate.
I would like to raise an issue relating to agriculture and weather. I have raised it before in connection with different aspects of the farming calendar. I refer to farmers being constrained in their activities by calendar dates. The last issue of this kind that I raised concerned an extension of the date for slurry-spreading because of inclement weather. Today, I want to raise the issue of winter crops. Twice the average rainfall fell in August and September. Much ground has been ploughed, but it has not been possible to sow the crops meant to go into those fields because the earth is completely saturated. This situation has major implications in the context of the nitrates directive, which states there has to be green cover on fields within six weeks of ploughing. That will not be possible in many cases because the crops it was intended to sow will not have been established before the onset of winter. Even if they were to survive, there will be a potential yield loss.
It is time for the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House in order that we can have a debate on this issue and to ensure that we do not have to stand up here, year in and year out, seeking extensions and derogations. We should discuss who sets the calendar dates, why they are set as they are and how can we get around the fact that they are nonsensical. We farm in this country within the constraints of the climate and that does not observe a date on a calendar. It is a debate we must have or I will be back, if I am still here, or else someone else will be, looking for the same extensions. The current system is not working and we need a debate on the issue.
I empathise with Senator Norris about the missive he received from Allied Irish Banks. I had a Visa card from Allied Irish Banks and it was funded from my bank account in Ulster Bank. I got a similar demand to explain how I had accumulated all of my wealth across my life for simply having a Visa card that was funded by a standing order. This shows the ludicrous aspect of some of the regulations that come from Europe. I have no doubt that there could be a case made for special vigilance in respect of those people who wield particular power in European member states to keep an eye on egregious financial transactions relating to them. The form Senator Norris received was one which was applicable to opening a new account, asking where this money was coming from and questions of that kind. An asinine form was sent to him when, I presume, he has been banking with that bank for some time.
Over 70 years.
Over 70 years, which is quite absurd.
The other thing that is offensive about it is the title of PEP - a politically exposed person. Again, that is a presumption that those of us in this House require special supervision in respect of our financial affairs over and above members of An Bord Pleanála or you name it. Do they get this kind of treatment? I do not think they do.
All our business is done in public, and certainly when one is not an officeholder, one is assumed to be a "politically exposed person" requiring this special treatment when those people who have huge discretionary powers - county managers, members of An Bord Pleanála and planning officials - have far more day-to-day power and far more potential to abuse that power than being a Member for Trinity College and the National University of Ireland in this establishment or whatever, so I do empathise with Senator Norris in that respect.
Those regulations were made without any input from this House because it is part of the same old malaise. We do not ever have any foresight as to what is coming at us from Europe.
It was fine to coast along on the coat tails of the United Kingdom and hope that they would examine these things and weed out the excessive or repugnant aspects of European legislative initiatives. They are no longer there. I repeat the following point, which I have said this before in this House, and I will keep saying it. We talk about being politically exposed, but Ireland is now politically exposed in Europe. We do not have the manpower, the studies and the input into what is happening in Europe. We have lived a charmed life on the coat tails of the United Kingdom. Our whole Government mechanism is now going to have to be tooled up so that it can perform its correct function. We, in our recently revamped Houses of the Oireachtas, have got to take our role seriously, under the Lisbon treaty, in terms of European legislation. Before we get worried about buttons and all the rest of it, and I am sorry Senator Norris thinks he is paid buttons-----
Rather cheap plastic buttons and nothing like the twice our income raise that civil servants are giving themselves.
Things are bad enough.
Before we, as a country, get trapped into considering the irrelevant and the insignificant for electoral advantage or political sniping, let us remember that this country is going towards Niagara in terms of its complete exposure as a result of taking no active part in the generation of European legislation.
At the outset, it is a pleasure to congratulate the Acting Chairman, my constituency colleague, on his elevation. It could well be a portent of things to come in the future.
I welcome the announcement in the budget of the recruitment of 700 new gardaí. I further welcome the fact that 15 new gardaí were deployed in the Cavan-Monaghan division after March and that at the recent meeting of the Committee on Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, announced that an armed support unit would be deployed to Cavan. I am also hoping that Cavan and Monaghan will get a disproportionate number of the 700 new recruits. The reason is that in recent times there have been serious acts of brutal violence and intimidation along the Border with regard to the Quinn executives. Sadly, that appears to be continuing on the northern side. An extra deployment of police is necessary, as is extra vigilance.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to discuss this. It is something that must be reviewed quarterly at least, with regard to progress, policing levels and augmenting policing levels along the Border to deal with the crisis. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, was proactive in going there very quickly to meet the Quinn executives and deal with the issue. I seek an assurance from the Leader, first, that he will invite the Minister to the House and, second, that he will convey to the Minister my anxiety that this matter receive a review in the Houses of the Oireachtas each quarter at least, so we can monitor it until we get the desired outcomes.
I welcome the ending of what has been a denial of rights for a long time in the Six Counties. The delay has been frustrating, hurtful and very costly for many. There are people around the world who wake up today and see that in a corner of Ireland their campaigns and objectives have been realised after a very long fight. These two issues are intimately connected. Irish women and the LGBT community share a most unfortunate commonality, namely, the contemporary and historical criminalisation of their bodies and lives. Today ends that criminalisation of women. I send solidarity to all those who campaigned on these issues.
The issues should have been dealt with in Stormont and it is regrettable that they were not. Such issues and future economic, health, housing and education issues can and should be dealt with on the basis of genuine power sharing. I look forward to that day.
First, I second Senator Higgins's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Second, I congratulate Senator Bacik on her rightful recognition.
I wish to discuss child homelessness. According to official figures, there are now 3,848 children living in homelessness. We saw a photograph of one of them, Sam, eating from a carton on Grafton Street. Figures are one thing, but when one puts a face to the child, it makes the situation very different. I wish to highlight a report I launched last Friday in Cork. It was undertaken by Young Knocknaheeny, which is a brilliant project that is supporting child and infant mental health. Its efforts are being undermined by the housing conditions in which the children are living. The report refers to couples rearing three children all under eight years of age, the housing assistance payment, HAP, not being accepted, borrowing money from loan sharks to pay the rent, zero-hour contracts, notices to quit and going to a hotel in the country and not in the city where the children are at school. A family with five children is sharing a room and trying to get out to school from that room.
Senator McFadden spoke about similar issues earlier. It is little wonder that one of the parents attempted suicide and that one of the children expressed suicidal thoughts. Another family with three children was camping out in the attic of a house. The attic had damp and mould and this resulted in respiratory problems for them. The family has been on the local authority waiting list for seven years but could not find a place to rent that accepted HAP. There is another account of a family of seven, comprising six children from infancy to teens, living in a house which had damp patches in the bedrooms, with cloths and rags blocking up windows. There was no heating system in the house, only open fires and electric heaters and there was rubbish in the garden. These accounts are shocking and they should shock us but we are not acting. Two more reports are due to be published soon, one from the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the other from the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. I ask the Leader to invite both Ministers to the House to answer questions with regard to what on earth is happening to end child homelessness.
I would also like the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to answer some questions on what is happening with Bessborough. Very important services are being provided in Bessborough to children and their families but the nuns are talking about selling it off. There is also the question of 800 unmarked graves about which the Minister must provide clarification.
Finally, I welcome the results of the parliamentary survey by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the first of its kind, that are being announced as we speak. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on what that survey has uncovered and, more importantly, on how we respond to it. I also wish to acknowledge the work of the women's caucus in making the survey happen in the first place.
Work has been ongoing in recent months regarding the preparation of an enabling works contract for Portiuncula hospital. It is important to acknowledge that progress is being made. Stage one of the tender competition progressed last Friday with the publication of the procurement notice on eTenders. This is important because it will allow for expressions of interest for the enabling works contract. As the House will be aware, funding was secured under the HSE's capital plan in September of this year. I have been advocating on this issue for quite a number of years. The project will ultimately involve a replacement 50-bed unit, fire safety works and a lift replacement programme. I emphasise the need to ensure that we do not see any further delays in the project. We want to see the enabling works contract put in place and ultimately, the project being delivered. I am aware that the Minister for Health will be visiting Portiuncula hospital shortly. It is important that he does so because he will be able to see for himself the conditions that patients and staff at the hospital have to endure, which are unacceptable in what is supposed to be a modern hospital setting. While progress has been made in terms of the enabling works contract being advertised on eTenders, it is important that we do not see any further delays in the delivery of that contract, the necessary works and, ultimately, the delivery of the project as a whole involving a 50-bed replacement unit. This project is so important to the people of Ballinasloe and the wider geographic area served by the hospital including Roscommon, Galway and further afield.
I welcome Senator Wilson's elevation to the Chair. I thank Senators Norris, Kelleher and others for their kind comments. I was delighted to receive the award on Saturday from the Irish Women Lawyers Association.
I pay tribute to that organisation, which has been up and running for some years.
It has forged a path, particularly for younger women solicitors and barristers coming into the legal profession to engage in networking, ensure that concerns are shared and address ongoing issues around impediments to women's career progression in law. I pay tribute to Maeve Delargy and the committee of the Irish Women Lawyers Association. It was a great honour to receive the award.
I join with Senator Warfield in noting the change in the law in Northern Ireland at midnight last night which brought about the decriminalisation of abortion and a move to marriage equality. Although there will be no immediate impact, these are clearly fundamental changes for society in Northern Ireland and the island as a whole, and I very much welcome them.
On an Oireachtas issue that is not buttongate, like Senator Kelleher I note the publication today by the Oireachtas of the results of the survey on bullying and harassment. Some of its findings would be alarming for any workplace, notably that 20% of those surveyed stated they had experienced harassment, bullying or sexual harassment. That is of concern. Like Senator Kelleher, I pay tribute to the women's caucus which initiated the survey. Senator Kelleher, Deputy Catherine Martin and others did a lot of work ensuring it came about. I join with Senator Kelleher in asking the Leader to facilitate a debate on how best to address its findings, once we have had time to review them, to ensure the workplace in Leinster House is a more conducive and welcoming environment.
I welcome to the Public Gallery a young woman who will go far, Ms Molly O'Nolan, who is present with me. As I stated at the Irish Women Lawyers Association dinner on Saturday night, this is the centenary of the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, the passage of which in November 1919 paved the way for women to enter the legal and many other professions. It is also the 90th anniversary of the Canadian case which put to rest a terrible principle of common law, namely, that women were not included as persons in gender-neutral legislation. Those events were not too long ago and it is useful to remind ourselves and younger generations of women of how hard-fought these changes in women's rights were, as indeed was the change in Northern Ireland last night for women and LGBT people.
Ms O'Nolan is very welcome to the Seanad.
As all Senators are aware, next weekend is a long weekend and the clocks will go back an hour. It is very important that we look after our elderly neighbours. There are 9,500 elderly people living in County Carlow. Last week, I met Mr. Joe Butler, chairman of the Carlow Older Persons Forum. There are concerns regarding the number of young people congregating around the entrance to housing estates, especially as the evenings are getting darker. A new study on loneliness carried out as part of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, TILDA, found that one in ten of those over the age of 75 reported feeling lonely much of the time. With Hallowe'en upon us, those living alone are very afraid of bangers which are set off frequently before and during Hallowe'en, causing much distress to elderly people and their animals. Many elderly people have animals for company and security. It is a worry because many of my constituents have contacted me on this issue and it is something of which we must be mindful. We must ensure that, with the evenings getting longer, we call in to our neighbours and people we know who may need a quick visit to see how they are.
I was somewhat taken aback by the comments made by the Fianna Fáil party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, while canvassing in County Clare recently, particularly those on Ireland West Airport Knock. He seemed to take issue with the manner in which the airport has been funded, suggesting that there should be further State intervention for Shannon Airport. The airports are very significant for their regions, but my issue is with the Deputy's comments. The Clare Champion reported that he stated the Government has overcame state aid issues to find ways of funding the airport at Knock. The suggestion that there was a derogation or something was pulled out of the hat is factually incorrect. Ireland West Airport Knock was funded by the Government in accordance with state aid rules. It has received more funding under Fine Gael Governments in recent years than under all the Fianna Fáíl Governments throughout its history.
Deputy Martin added that Shannon Airport was of a different order to Knock. One could call this a Freudian slip but it reveals a lot. Knock Airport is quite something to us in the west and north west, particularly now that all the various councils have a stake in it.
I do not seek to diminish in any way the value of Shannon Airport to its region. I ask the Fianna Fáil leader to clarify the situation and correct the record in relation to Knock Airport. I also ask him to give a firm commitment to support Knock and to say he sees its value, as he does in the case of Shannon. I welcome the €11 million that was spent on a new runway overlay at Knock Airport. It was much needed because the airport has 800,000 passengers and is a model of efficiency, having gone from strength to strength on a shoestring. Full credit is due to the manager, Joe Gilmore, the chairman, Arthur French, and the former chairman, Joe Kennedy, and their staff. It is an outstanding airport to pass through.
I understand the significance of Shannon Airport. A few years ago, it benefited from a major package from the Government of which we in Knock were, if truth be told, quite envious. It was a €100 million debt write-off when IDA Ireland properties merged. Let Fianna Fáil go on the record with a firm commitment to Knock Airport and let its members support and welcome all the investment and work this Government has put in, rather than speaking out of two sides of their mouths, saying one thing down in Clare and then coming up to Mayo to say something else. Let us have the real truth of what Fianna Fáil policy is.
I think an election is coming.
That was a party political broadcast. The starting gun has been fired.
I noted what Senator Boyhan said earlier about trade with China. As somebody who starts a good many days of the week farming, I am always glad to hear of good news in the area of trade but we need to talk about China. That will be for another day, though.
Today, I want to talk about the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act and its imposition of wide-ranging abortion measures that will permit the ending of life of an unborn child up to viability and, perhaps, beyond. This is an Act of extreme moral and legislative violence and it is a tragedy for this island. These provisions provide for the decriminalisation of abortion, as Senator Bacik said, and a moratorium on abortion-related criminal prosecutions from 22 October onwards. Most people have always rightly believed that women who have abortions should not be targeted by the criminal law because of the mitigating situation of fear and pressure that is often involved. We have arrived at a position where, in the absence of any regulations for a period of some months at least, no abortion provider, pimp or campaigner involved in promoting abortion, however late-term and brutal, however destructive in its attempt and execution, can be the subject of a criminal prosecution.
I would like an explanation. What has a pimp got to do with this?
This is another dark chapter in our history. The attempts by the majority of the parties in the North, including Sinn Féin and the SDLP - shamefully so in the case of the latter given its particular stance for life when others were not so solid - but excluding the DUP alone, to deny the ethical seriousness of this issue has been tragic. It points to terrible political and social irresponsibility and destructiveness. Instead of engaging in a sensitive and constructive manner, these parties went the route of ridicule and political point-scoring. At no point was there even a minimal attempt to respond to the gravity of the legislation and to what it entails, namely, the ending of a life of an unborn child, for any reason up to the point of viability and perhaps beyond. Thanks to a political vacuum that seems to have been happily embraced insofar as it eased the passage of this inhumane Act, even while people were decrying the disrespect for minorities in the context of Brexit and consent arrangements and so on, we now have a situation where unborn children in the North may be subjected to acts of intolerable cruelty in the name of progressive politics.
It is not just that there is something deeply unfair about abortion, though there is. It is about the lengths to which people in this Parliament and others go to deny the humanity of the child, including denying any discussion about pain relief during late-term abortions, which are now permitted. This points to a darkness at the heart of our society and a darkening of the understanding of many people, including parliamentarians.
The measures that have been introduced also include a compulsory component stipulating that so-called reproductive rights, including how to access abortion, must become part of Northern Ireland's school curriculum for adolescents. Not only has one of the most liberal and extreme abortion regimes in Europe been foisted on the North, through British legislation which Sinn Féin supported, but the promotion of its ideological foundation is being forced onto schools. If left unchallenged, this legislation will make it very difficult for schools to maintain an ethos that regards abortion as a tragedy and an injustice which erodes fundamental respect for human dignity, and will also make it harder for those schools to encourage positive alternatives to abortion. This is a long way from what some early feminists, who were staunchly pro-life, would have wanted. This is not about men versus women. Countless women, many of whom are very proud to call themselves feminists, are deeply disturbed by the direction our law has now taken.
I want to raise a breaking matter which is of great significance for people in both the Shannon and Limerick areas. Molex, a large employer that has been located in Shannon for over 48 years, announced today that it is looking to close its facility at the end of 2020, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs. This is of huge significance, particularly for the workers and their families. I am conscious that workers are currently being informed of this decision by Molex so I do not wish to go into it in detail. Suffice it to say that I met with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, about the matter in the last half an hour. The Government first became aware of this late last night and the Minister had a discussion with the global CEO of Molex today. She is very concerned and is aware of the impact this could have, particularly on the 500 workers in Molex, their families, and the Shannon and Limerick regions.
Many of the people working in Molex live in Limerick city, which I represent, and I am conscious of the potential impact of this closure. Every effort must now be made to engage with Molex at a global level, and IDA Ireland should also engage with Molex to see whether new, alternative, creative jobs can be provided in the area with Molex. Molex is part and parcel of what Shannon and the region are about. It has been there since 1971, which is nearly 50 years. I am conscious of the impact of this breaking news on the families involved. The key thing is that the Minister is engaging with the company and with IDA Ireland. It is a very difficult time for Molex staff and workers in Shannon. Every effort must be made by IDA Ireland to engage with Molex to see whether it can provide alternative jobs in Shannon. I will continue to bring this up with the Minister, the Government and IDA Ireland to ensure we get a proper resolution for the staff. This is a shock for the staff and people in the region. I want to put on the record that the Government is very supportive of what those people are currently going through and direct engagement is happening at the highest level between the Minister, the CEO of Molex and IDA Ireland. Every effort will now be made to ensure that alternative jobs can be provided, ideally with Molex in other areas, and that the interests of the workers are represented. This is a huge blow for the region and the Government is looking to ensure it is addressed in the best possible way, in the interests of workers, their jobs and their families.
Tugaim 100% tacaíocht don phointe a rinne an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill mar gheall ar Molex. Tá mé ag iarraidh labhairt faoin ghné chéanna den ábhar.
I have asked the Leader on a number of occasions if we could invite the Minister to the House to discuss the document our committee put together on small and medium businesses. I do not have a date yet. I have asked him on three or four occasions in the past four or five months. The Government is either serious about small and medium businesses or it is not. We need to have a full discussion in this House on small and medium businesses.
To respond to Senator O'Donnell's point, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to the announcement that Molex is leaving Shannon in a year's time with the loss of 500 jobs, we need to consider developing a strategy for small and medium businesses. We are not doing that. In my view we do not have one. The small and medium businesses I know do not see any proper direction coming from Government. This report that people, including the Leader, were party to and participated in gives a strategy and a direction. I would like an open and honest debate about that as soon as possible. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to come into the House and give us a date when we can have that debate.
Ar phointe éile, more than a year ago I asked the Leader to invite the Minister to the House for a debate on RTÉ. Where is RTÉ at in terms of its finances and overall position? There is deep concern among the employees of RTÉ in respect of their future. RTÉ is significantly in debt. I understand it has lost in the region of €8 million this year. It has lost the rights to a number of sporting events like the Six Nations and others. RTÉ is a public broadcasting station and it is very important to the entire country. The Minister should come into the House to discuss it. When Deputy Naughten was the Minister with responsibility for this area I asked that he come into the House. I was told he would be brought in but it has not happened.
I congratulate the Acting Chairman on his elevation. I would like to be associated also with the congratulations to Senator Bacik, which are well deserved.
Senator McDowell raised an important issue in respect of the scrutinising of European legislation and directives, although I do not necessarily agree with everything he said. We are good at scrutinising some laws but the Senator said we have ridden on the coat tails of the British for many years and the fact that they will be out of the EU now poses very serious difficulties for us.
I assume he is not suggesting that we would drive on the right hand side of the road but, in any event-----
The middle is preferable.
The Senator, without interruption.
Probably, yes. In any event, it was said in this Chamber on many occasions that this is the ideal House to scrutinise European legislation and directives. I ask the Leader to give consideration to bringing that forward. We have the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. We used to have an EU scrutiny committee and various joint committees deal with European laws and directives. However, I believe this House could play a significant role in scrutinising European laws and directives. I support Senator McDowell's comments on the very heavy workload that will be thrust on various Departments and that, as a country, we will probably need to employ many additional people in those areas but this House could play a significant role in that regard.
I thank the 19 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business.
I extend the congratulations of the House to Senator Bacik on her well-deserved award last Saturday night. She has been a strong champion and articulate advocate on a variety of causes and in the promotion of human rights in the Oireachtas and I commend her most sincerely on a justly earned award. Comhghairdeachas.
Senator Davitt referred to Clonkill, which we congratulate on its Westmeath hurling final victory. The Senator referred also to Paul Quinn who was appointed in a personal capacity and who has also resigned in a personal capacity. While he is the State's chief procurement officer, I assure the House that the national children's hospital is continuing. There is good progress in many aspects of the work and we are up nearly to roof level. I would be very happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter. Senator Davitt referred also to the matter of the sewerage centre for Mullingar. The Senator could raise that as a Commencement matter. I do not have the information to hand but he makes pertinent points.
Senators Boyhan and Mullen raised the issue of the beef market. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and Bord Bia on the opening of new markets in Asia. China is an important market. As Senator Boyhan said, it is important to have high-quality, traceable beef and that we have fair pricing for Irish farmers. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter. He was here a couple of weeks ago to discuss beef and we will have him again.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to voting behaviour in the Lower House. The Acting Chairman made a comment on the matter also but I will not stray into it. The Ceann Comhairle has launched an investigation and we await the completion and publication of his report. I share Senator Conway-Walsh's view that it is a serious matter. As parliamentarians, we are all privileged to be here and one of the most important parts of our job is to be present to vote in a locked Chamber. Something on which we should all reflect is the decorum appropriate to that voting block. I may be guilty of being slightly cavalier during voting but in terms of being here, it is a matter we should take very seriously. All of us who have the privilege to be here cast our votes properly in this House and we are not tainted by what has happened. I hope I am not proven wrong in that but I do not think I will be. In the three and a half years of the current Seanad, all Members have taken their job very seriously. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter at a later time.
Senator Conway-Walsh also raised the important issue regarding 70,000 semi-State pensioners. They feel aggrieved and there is an issue which needs to be addressed. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Norris and McDowell referred to a missive from AIB. I have sympathy for Senator Norris with regard to the matter he raises and what is being asked of him. I am not sure if it is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, but the Senator might raise it there to see how his ideas can be progressed around the imposition he identifies rather than to have it debated in the House. The Senator also referred to pay increases. Public sector pay is an important matter and the issue the Senator raises is one many of us are alarmed about. That is particularly so regarding the pay and conditions of local authority members but also around the pay and conditions of top civil servants in light of that. Senator Norris knows well that Senator McFadden has been a champion of the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces. Public sector pay is a matter on which we can have a debate to include Members of the Oireachtas, local authority members and people at different levels of the Civil Service and public service generally.
Senator Higgins proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which I will not accept. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is coming to the House on 5 November and Senator Higgins has the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion with him during a Commencement matter. The issue has been raised in the House before and the Government has made its position clear. The matter can be discussed on 5 November on the occasion of the debate.
Senator McFadden raised two valid points on housing, namely, the repair and lease scheme and the vacant homes officers. I am happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue of housing.
Senator Paul Daly always makes clear and cogent arguments about farming and agriculture. As half a layman in agriculture, it is about ensuring we can farm. We are accustomed to rainfall in our climate. I share the Senator’s view that it is not a case of one size fits all and farming cannot just be done by the calendar. That is a personal observation. I am happy to have a discussion with the Minister on derogations and extensions.
Senators McDowell and Paddy Burke raised the issue of the scrutiny of EU legislation. I am happy to support any role this House can play in the ongoing and deepening scrutiny of EU legislation. Senator Burke’s point that the House could do more in this regard was particularly relevant. I do not share Senator McDowell’s view that we are heading towards Armageddon. However, I am happy for the Minister to come to the House to debate this issue. It is important we take the scrutiny of EU legislation seriously. I subscribe to the view that we need to do more in this House on this matter. I am happy to work with all Members to ensure this happens.
Senator O’Reilly welcomed the deployment of new Garda recruits, as well as the armed support unit, to Cavan. I commend John McCartin on his appearance on "Claire Byrne Live", his comments and his courage in his particular situation. I hope people will take notice of what he said.
In the case of Cavan, the Border area needs further Garda strengthening. I hope Cork city receives new gardaí in the new allocation to be announced in the coming months. It is important the second city receives its fair share of new recruits.
Senators Warfield, Bacik, Kelleher and Mullen referred to the changes in the situation in the North of our country around the decriminalisation of abortion services and the introduction of marriage equality. The points made on all sides are important and I hope we will take notice of what is said. I am not going to wade into the debate, other than to say that, in the case of the decision in question, it has shown there is a lacuna and a need for an assembly. It highlights the importance of the assembly. I hope it will be up and running soon.
Senator Kelleher raised a report she launched last week related to the issue of housing and homelessness. Regarding the young boy who was pictured on social media last week eating on the street, it is important that those who know his identity or whereabouts will engage with the authorities to ensure his well-being is catered for. I engage with homeless services every week. Last Friday night, I participated in the Focus Ireland sleep-out on Spike Island. It is important to recognise a significant amount of work is being done around homelessness and performance.
It is not enough, however.
We can never do enough. Some claim we do nothing. However, we will make €166 million available in this year’s budget to our local authorities to deliver homeless services. In the first six months of this year, 2,825 adults and their dependent children exited homelessness. In Dublin city, which has the highest numbers, 467 families exited emergency accommodation. I can give all the statistics and figures in the world. We must, however, have an honest debate about homelessness in our society, based on facts, real information and what is being done.
There has been a 78% increase in homelessness. That is a real figure.
The Leader has to accept the figures.
The Leader without interruption.
There is a real need to have that debate. I am not suggesting for one second that we do not have an issue. However, we need an honest debate. We cannot say that there is nothing being done. We cannot say that the Government is not doing anything or expending money because it is.
The facts are that people are exiting homelessness, more houses are being built and more people are entering home ownership. Let us have that honest debate. I am not saying this to Senator Kelleher. To be fair, we can all present reports.
These are the Department's reports.
There are agendas and commentary is written and spoken every day but if one was to listen to some people involved, and I am not talking about Senator Kelleher, one would imagine that nothing is being done anywhere in the country. That is the point I am making.
The question is whether it is enough.
Senator Kelleher made a very important contribution regarding the land at Bessborough in Cork. I share her concerns around the proposed sale, particularly the suite of services that are being made available, or are coming out of Bessborough. The points made by the Senator are ones on which we should have a debate. She and I might have a conversation about that.
I join with Members in congratulating the women's caucus on the survey that was announced. I note the comments of Members today. Perhaps it is the optimist in me that makes me want to herald the finding that 78% of people feel safe. I was slightly disappointed that only 61% felt respected. That figure should have been far higher. That was the figure that jumped out at me. I commend Senator Kelleher for the work she has done in that area and the immense amount of work she undertook as part of that survey. I would be happy to have a debate when that survey is published because it is something that needs to continue.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of Portiuncula University Hospital and the enabling works. I commend her on her ongoing advocacy and proactivity on the matter.
I welcome Molly O'Nolan from Senator Bacik's office and wish her every success. I hope she has a very positive and productive week. She is certainly working with a very good role model and I hope she learns a small fraction from her and possibly emulates her some day in being elected to this Upper House from the Trinity College panel. I wish her every success and thank her for being here. I think I addressed Senator Bacik's other points as well.
Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to the elderly and the importance of engaging and visiting. I share her views, particularly in light of the fact that the clocks are going back this weekend. Regarding fireworks at Halloween, we need a debate on antisocial behaviour. In some cases, young people today feel they can do what they want. There is no accountability on the part of their parents. One could argue that there should be a Garda on every corner but we will not have that. The points made by the Senator are important, particularly as we have more people who feel isolated and lonely.
Senator Mulherin raised the remarks of the leader of Fianna Fáil in Clare regarding Shannon Airport. The points made by the Senator were very well made. In keeping with the cuteness of Fianna Fáil, its leader says one thing in Clare, another thing in Cork and another thing in Knock. He needs to clarify the situation regarding Shannon Airport. I share the Senator's views on this regard.
Be nice, we are keeping your job over there.
Deputy Micheál Martin and the Leader are neighbours.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of China. We will have that debate in due course. He also made reference to the situation in the North, which I have addressed.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the very important matter of the job losses at Molex. I think all of us in the House today stand in solidarity with the workers, who were given the news that the plant will close at the end of 2020 in the past few hours. I will endeavour to get the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House for a debate on the issue. Every effort must be made between IDA Ireland, the Minister's office and the Department to ensure a contingency plan and strategy are put in place. I would be happy to facilitate that debate.
Senator Ó Céidigh also referred to Molex. In addition, he raised his report. It is a matter for the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. I have requested that he come to the House but between a combination of diary and legislative issues, we have not been able to have that debate. I will endeavour to have that debate as soon as possible.
I would also be happy to have a debate on RTÉ, which has had a significant hearing on the Order of Business in the past couple of weeks.
It is important that we have a debate on that. With that, I repeat that I will not be accepting Senator Higgins's amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Higgins has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment or the Taoiseach on the removal of the Shannon liquified natural gas terminal from the list of European projects of common interest be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?