The Order of Business is No. 1, Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, resumed, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 4.20 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, entitled Report on Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude no later than 6 p.m. with the contribution of the chairman of the committee not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of the rapporteur to the committee not to exceed eight minutes, the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union to be taken at 6 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Before I call Senators, I wish to discuss the exceptional circumstances yesterday. Twenty-five speakers contributed to the Order of Business yesterday and some Senators thought it was unduly long and that the Chair might have been lax. Yesterday was yesterday. I remind Senators that, on the Order of Business, three minutes are allowed for group spokespersons and two minutes for every other Senator. I obviously do not like pulling anybody up but I feel it necessary, after yesterday, to remind Senators of that.
Yesterday, I rose to discuss the Government's abysmal record on housing and the unprecedented numbers of people accessing homeless accommodation. Today, I would like to discuss the Government's record and handling of the health service. Yesterday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, recorded 679 patients on trolleys across the country. This is the second highest figure ever recorded and is the highest one recorded in 2019. It was unusual and horrific that the Government did not declare this an emergency. This is occurring at a time of the year when it is still relatively warm and before we hit severe winter conditions, yet we are seeing these figures in accident and emergency departments in hospitals across the country.
We also know the weather affects homeless figures and those accessing emergency homeless accommodation. What exactly are the Government's plans for the health service and the provision of emergency accommodation for those who will be seeking to access it when the weather deteriorates, which we expect it will because it does every year? We do not know what will happen at the moment. These figures will just climb without any plan in place and it is very serious, particularly when INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, has said that members of her organisation are working in inhumane conditions with staff shortages. Those who will suffer are the patients and it is putting patient safety at risk.
On a positive note, I welcome the Minister's suggestion of putting a levy on coffee cups but if there is going to be a public consultation, perhaps the terms of reference should be widened to consider putting a levy on plastic packaging on vegetables and things like that in supermarkets.
The suggestion is to be welcomed, though. Fianna Fáil was very successful in bringing in the plastic bag levy, so it is great that Fine Gael is following suit.
I agree with Senator McDowell's call yesterday for a proper debate and discussion in the House on the question of direct provision. I appreciate that what the Senator spoke to yesterday and again in his article this morning is built on his experience as a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Attorney General concerned with the process, procedure and legality of those who seek refuge in our State.
I wish to touch on the human story that is at the heart of this debate and the national discussion taking place. I wish to speak first to the humanity of those working in organisations that provide practical and emotional support to those seeking asylum in this State, from the Irish Refugee Council to the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland. I pay tribute to our primary and secondary schools across the country that are providing the gift of education and helping with the integration of refugees in the communities in which they reside. Most of all, I pay tribute to the communities right across Ireland that host direct provision centres, from Killarney to Carrick-on-Suir, with little fuss and none of the fear that has been fostered in recent months. These are the people and the Ireland I recognise. It is not up to communities to identify who should or should not apply for asylum here or which application is more worthy than which. That is the responsibility of the State.
As Irish people, however, we are uniquely and indelibly linked to our own story of emigration, forced off these shores as we were through starvation and deprivation and granted asylum when no system existed to help build the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America. The ability of our State to meet the economic and social challenges of those seeking refuge is also unique among that of practically every other country in the European Union. There are no rubber dinghies coming across the Irish Sea packed with people who carry with them the dreams and aspirations of a better life. I accept that in the modern world every state must be able to control and manage its borders and that the management of those borders can at times be done with limited compassion. Some people in this country want to undermine our democracy and are using the unsavoury tactic of blaming the other, or the stranger, for our economic and social injustices. We Irish have seen this before, in signs stating "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish". Our dialogue and discussions should be about how communities work to help those seeking asylum and whether we can talk about how Ireland fulfils its obligations to those seeking refuge. Yes, let us have the honest discussion my colleague spoke about yesterday, but I plead for the discussion not to be about who should or should not apply in the first place or which person's application is more genuine than which. Instead, the discussion should be about how we grant asylum as quickly as possible to those who are entitled to the refuge of this country. How do we ensure that Ireland deals humanely with those who apply for asylum and those in our direct provision centres? These are the questions that, if answered, will speak to the true instincts of us Irish people and our tied history to immigrant communities across the world.
I wish to pass on my condolences on the passing of Fr. Des Wilson to his family. I know he is a relative of our own Senator Wilson, and I am sure my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, will talk further about him and the Springhill area of west Belfast, where he came from. He was 70 years in the priesthood and was obviously a peacemaker and a champion of the people. May his soul rest in peace.
I ask the Leader again to bring the Minister before the House on the pyrite situation. I know that money has been allocated, but not one single cent of it has so far gone to the people in Mayo or Donegal, I believe. I really need the Minister to come before the House to clarify the criteria in that regard.
I empathise with the 600,000 people in Dublin, Kildare and Meath who are facing a third day of the boil water notice. I am perplexed, however, by the fact that the Government thinks it acceptable that people in Mayo and other rural areas live for years with boil water notices. This year Mayo County Council sought funding for the construction of a number of new water schemes. The Letterbrick scheme, in Kenagh, was one such scheme serving 24 connections, which would involve an extension to the Nephin valley group water scheme. Another was the Downpatrick Head group water scheme. The unfairness of funding still not being allocated to these group water schemes and the continuation of boil water notices for years and years must be addressed. I, therefore, ask also that the Leader bring the Minister before the House to discuss group water schemes specifically. I know that some allocations have been made, but we cannot go on for years and years with boil water notices.
When will the Minister, Deputy Harris, release the valproate response report? The report is on his desk. Families have waited 18 months already for it. We cannot get the information we need on the 1975 and 1983 licences. I know that Karen Keely has been looking for this information. She is a mother of three children who have been affected by valproate syndrome. We need to get this sorted. When will the report come off the Minister's desk and be published in order that a proper redress scheme, similar to that has been put in place in France, can be put in place and an independent investigation take place as to who knew what and when?
I rise to pay tribute to the memory of Ana Kriégel. Sentences were handed down yesterday to the two boys responsible for her murder. Comments have been made in the media this morning as to how Ireland should react to the fact that we have two child murderers guilty of this heinous crime. It is important we remember Ana as a beautiful, talented, loved young girl. The dignity with which her family have dealt with this situation is quite inspirational. However, we must come to terms with this horrible event, discuss it and ensure that everything that can be done in these Houses to learn a lesson is done and that nothing of this nature can ever possibly happen again. Questions have been asked about the nature of child pornography and the extent of its availability. Questions have been asked about the availability of smartphones. Discussions have been had on the nature of the quite intensive and cruel bullying that seems to take place in many of our schools and among our young people. Bullying is not just an issue for young people but it certainly seemed to be a feature of this case. We therefore need to respond to this situation. If Ireland has produced two child murderers, and a child has been murdered, these Houses have a duty to react in a calm, considered way that might lead society in learning some lessons from this horrible tale.
I also wish to raise the issue of autism services in north Dublin. I am constantly struck by the paltry level of service available on the north side of Dublin to parents of children diagnosed with autism, by the long waiting lists for early intervention and by the inability of parents to get school places for their children and associated issues. It seems that if a child is diagnosed with autism, rather than the system wrapping itself around him or her with the care one would expect, the parents must become part-time campaigners and often must go to war with the system to get the most basic of provisions.
I would appreciate if the Leader could arrange a debate on the nature of the autism services both in north Dublin and across the country in order that we can get to the root of what is wrong and determine how we can correct it. I regularly meet parents of young children who are already completely and utterly exhausted. They are not looking forward to dealing with a system for years into the future that cannot adequately support then. Therefore, I would appreciate if the Leader could facilitate a debate on this issue.
I am sure many Members will share my sentiments if they saw last night's BBC Northern Ireland's "Spotlight" programme that dealt with the intimidation of Kevin Lunney, a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings. It was very sad. He was abducted, tortured and assaulted. There has been ongoing intimidation of all the directors of Quinn Industrial Holdings. The rule of law must be upheld in that region. I do not like to talk about the Garda or its operations. I am sure many things have been done behind the scenes and under the radar but there is a feeling that perhaps the Garda and the PSNI were not out quickly enough to deal with the threats of intimidation against these directors. Additional gardaí have been deployed and there is a fully armed service unit in the area. I very much welcome that but I hope the Garda and the PSNI have a cross-Border initiative to tackle these serious forms of intimidation. Our thoughts are with Kevin Lunney and all the Quinn directors and their families. Nobody should have to experience such intimidation as they try to do what is right for their community and area in terms of protecting jobs. As a State, we must stand up to this form of intimidation and the rule of law must be upheld.
I concur with what Senator Feighan said about Kevin Lunney. The difficulties in that part of counties Cavan and Fermanagh have been experienced for many years. They did not only start in the past three or four years. They have been going on since 2011. I welcome the additional Garda resources deployed but it is not sufficient to send uniformed new recruits to this area. Specialist gardaí need to be put in place who can man the Border and who, along with their colleagues in the PSNI, can target these people.
The main reason I wish to speak is the death yesterday afternoon of Fr. Des Wilson, to which Senator Conway Walsh referred. He was known to many as a formidable priest, an outstanding mentor and in the words of Fr. Brian D'Arcy "a delightful honest rebel". Fr. Des was dearly loved by the Springhill community and the people of west Belfast whom he served diligently for more than 60 years. There are others in this House and the Lower House who I know will pay tribute to him. To Seanadóir Niall Ó Donnghaile he was a great friend and mentor. To Teachta Adams, he was a livelong friend and the priest who married him and his wife Colette. To me, he was my father's first cousin and a man about whom I loved to hear stories. The fact that he and my uncle John studied together in the seminary in Maynooth at the same time gave our family a great source of amusement. They took entirely different roads, one a priest and the other a politician, but they were more alike than unalike.
The Senator is a bit like both.
I note the media and social media have been focused heavily on the death of another giant of a man, Gay Byrne, and rightly so, but I saw a small pocket of coverage dedicated to Fr. Des. The Irish Times referred to him as the peacemaking priest, while on Twitter and Facebook ordinary citizens of west Belfast have talked about the loss of their people's priest. It has been heartwarming to read other people's stories of Fr. Des, from how he helped a widowed mother to get back into education to how he opened dialogue between warring factions in the North. While some might say one of his contributions was more important than the other, I know that Fr. Des never did; he placed equal importance on helping people. I offer my condolences to the people of Springhill; they have lost a real force of nature.
We all share those thoughts.
I was delighted to see this morning that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is beginning to do a lot of work on climate change, with the plastic bag levies, a levy on waste recovery and even a levy on disposable coffee cups. I have an issue with people walking and eating at the same time. It is the worst of America coming to Ireland.
There is a certain fantasy about many of the measures he has been announcing. One of the greatest fantasies was in an announcement he made on Friday, 25 October, in a climate action youth town hall meeting in Mount Temple comprehensive school in Clontarf. He stated the climate action plan sets out an ambitious plan for 2030. We will have five times as much renewable energy on our grid; ten times as much retrofitting of homes and buildings; 25 times penetration of electric vehicles among our cars; zero non-recyclable plastics compared to 60% today; 500,000 extra daily public active commuter journeys and, here it is, we will have planted 250 million trees. In ten years, we will have planted 250 million trees. That means we will plant 25 million trees a year, which means we will plant 2,830,000 trees a month. That means that we will plant 69,000 trees a day. I do not know who wrote this - I think it is the fairy tales of Ireland – but we have to be very careful of these kinds of announcements that are glossed over and given to Ministers to say, and they say them with the greatest faith in the world. This is because nobody has even asked, if we are going to plant 69,000 trees a day, where they will be planted. Are we going to recreate Sweden or parts of Canada? What will be the size of these trees? The expanse between one tree and another is quite large if it is at arm's length or will there be poles? It is ridiculous. While I agree with much of what the Minister said, he cannot be writing the fairly tales of Ireland or not checking what is being written in announcements I have checked it three times. It started off as 400 million and something and it is down to 250 million but with 250 million trees, we will be walking on the top of trees from here to Galway. A squirrel will not have to take the train. It can walk on the top of the trees with no problem or it could swing, like orangutans. I do not know where these spaces are.
I would hate to be Jane.
It is a very serious problem-----
I would hate to be Jane.
-----because on the one hand we are trying to do something different but on the other hand these are the fairy tales of Ireland; I could be brought to song. Could the Minister come into the House and explain this?
He was here yesterday.
Yesterday, I was eulogising the death of Gay Byrne and it was not my place to go into another matter. We had statements on the death of Gay Byrne so it was not my place to raise a different matter. I was very saddened by his death and I only spent a short time here in the House. That is not to take away from my point. The Minister cannot write fantasy like this and gift it to the Irish people when it is not true because what happens on the doors is that people say, "you promised me this", when the promises were the fairy tales of Ireland. Could the Minister come into the House and explain this or the civil servant who wrote it and got him to say it, worse again?
We need more trees and squirrels. I have them at the end of my back garden.
I was not here yesterday for the expressions of sympathy on the death of Gay Byrne. I watched the special programme late last night and the one thing that came across, and it is a lesson for all politicians, was that his greatest skill was that he listened. He let people talk. I pay tribute to him. He was the greatest broadcaster of his generation by a mile but his main skill was that he listened when people spoke.
I welcome the announcement from Aer Lingus today that it will now fly from Shannon Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
It has been announced today and will take effect from 29 March. Aer Lingus will fly to Charles de Gaulle Airport four days a week and, on the other three days, the aircraft will fly to Barcelona. That Barcelona route will start on 2 May.
I am particularly interested in the Charles de Gaulle route because it brings major European hub connectivity, something I have been pushing for on behalf of Shannon Airport for a long time. This is the start of the process and I would like to see year-round flights. This flight is welcome but will only fly between 29 March and 31 October. We need support from people in the region and nationally for this route. We welcome people from every corner of Ireland flying out of Shannon. We hope that these routes, particularly the Charles de Gaulle one, will be extended to all year round so we have major European hub connectivity.
There are further applications before the Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister, Deputy Ross, for other European hub connectivity flights from Shannon Airport and it is something we need. It is significant, with the advent of Brexit, that we will have this European hub connectivity in place in time for whatever happens with Brexit. It will benefit not only the area in Shannon but Ireland Inc. Shannon Airport is an international airport that happens to be based in the mid-west region; it is not necessarily a mid-west airport. It is an international airport for Ireland that is operating significantly under capacity. It can cater for 4.5 million passengers per year and currently caters for approximately 1.8 million.
It can take one any length of time to go from one end of Dublin Airport to the other. It is chaos to get through Dublin. One could take a bus or transport to Shannon Airport where there is ample car parking, ample space for flying with a modern, upgraded runway. The two airports should not be competing with one another. There is too much of that in Ireland. We are a small island with good road connectivity which will be shortly boosted by the M20.
This is a significant announcement for Shannon Airport. Major European hub connectivity will be in place from the end of March and guaranteed to the end of October. I want that to be extended to being year-round and to have other European destinations. Project Ireland 2040 aims to achieve 75% of growth outside of Dublin and Shannon Airport is a key element in that. Let us get behind Shannon and take Aer Lingus flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Let us have year-round European hub connectivity to make us Brexit-proof, not only for Shannon and the region but for Ireland Inc. as well.
I raise a matter of serious importance. In June 2018, the Dáil passed a motion calling for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Shane O'Farrell in Monaghan in August 2011. This House did the same in February 2019. Many of us in these Houses have met the devastated family of Shane O'Farrell and have learned about the shocking set of circumstances and failure of the criminal justice systems, North and South, that led to the failures which culminated in Shane's death.
I met Shane's mother and father not long after his death. I was a Deputy and justice spokesperson for my party at the time. I will never forget the devastation inflicted on that family, particularly his mother, Lucia. This is the quintessential Irish family - decent and hard-working, with parents who urged their children to get the best education they can. Shane was a joy, by all accounts, a fine young man who had just qualified in medicine and was about to travel around the world. He was a dream son who was taken away from his parents. Deaths happen but it is unacceptable when they occur surrounded by absolute failure from those in the justice system.
These Houses voted on this matter and what has happened recently is that rather than grant a public inquiry, the Minister for Justice and Equality asked former Judge Gerard Haughton to put together terms of reference, a scoping exercise. His Department has rejected those terms of reference and narrowed them further. This is absolutely outrageous. This was not only a failure of An Garda Síochána, it was a failure of the court system and a failure of communication, North and South, because the individual responsible for Shane's death had been involved in criminality, North and South, and has been convicted as such.
I appeal for the Minister to be brought before this House, which voted by a majority for a public inquiry, to account for this disgrace and assure us that Judge Haughton will not be held back from his desire to have a proper, fully comprehensive inquiry into the circumstances of Shane's death in order that lessons can be learned and some degree of solace given to the O'Farrell family. I appeal to the Leader to ensure the Minister is brought before this House at the earliest opportunity to account to all of us as to why he has not respected our wishes.
I was a part of the all-party working group on dementia that worked across both Houses to improve the resources given to families suffering because a loved one suffers with dementia. We heard this morning about the potential closure of St. Joseph's, Shankill. It has 60 live-in, dedicated units for dementia. It is the largest in the country. There are 120 places per week for day care services which make a real impact for 120 families, week in and week out. We now discover St. Joseph's has had no increase in funding since 2012 and faces closure. This is totally unacceptable. All political parties have been fighting for resources for families with a loved one suffering from dementia only to hear this news about St. Joseph's this morning.
This is not an isolated case. Last week, we heard about the impending closure of an important resource in Roscommon that provided respite for the Irish Wheelchair Association, people with Parkinson's disease and other sufferers. It is a dedicated, purpose-built respite home in the midlands to ensure families can get respite. I talked to one family member who said it is absolutely fabulous to bring her loved one for a break to the centre, stay with him, and have all the resources available for the need of his disability and as a wheelchair user. That centre now faces closure. Something is going seriously wrong.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business whereby either the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, attends the House today to explain to us exactly what is happening and give some reassurance to the 180 families in the Dún Laoghaire, Shankill and south County Dublin area that this important support will not be taken away from them at the end of the year. They cannot wait for clarity on this issue, it needs to come now. They suffer, day in and day out, trying to take care of their loved ones. They have now received notification that this resource is going to be withdrawn without any explanation of what support will be put there in replacement. I am formally proposing an amendment to the Order of Business whereby either the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, attends the House today to give some reassurance that these important resources will be maintained in the future.
A number of weeks ago, we had the welcome announcement of the Multi-annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021. It provides important funding for rural dwellers in order that they can have proper and adequate water supplies to their houses. Funding was allocated to Mayo and other rural counties that will lead to great benefits for many people in areas that would otherwise be at a loss.
However, I have to take issue with the expert panel that was put together to assess various applications submitted by the local authorities, Mayo County Council in this case. It has failed the people of Downpatrick, which is a rural area outside Ballycastle in north Mayo. This scheme was recognised and designated as a number one priority for Mayo County Council. The reason for this is if the Government does not intervene and help these people get a water supply, there will be no water supply. The problem stems from the fact that there are naturally occurring adverse ground conditions whereby the ground contains iron, manganese and arsenic. The water cannot really be treated. A grant to bore a well is available and many of these people have availed of that. When the machinery or the equipment breaks down, they cannot wash clothes or have showers. They have to go to a village pump in the middle of Ballycastle to get some sort of proper drinking water. They have been at this for years. Since about 2008, they had been set and expectant that they would get a new water scheme and as we all remember, we had the economic crash and the CLÁR scheme for rural areas was discontinued. This is a number one priority and clearly these people cannot do anything unless the Government helps them. They have waited over the years, the rules have been modified and every time we hoped the net would be cast wide enough and they would be facilitated to get what is a basic right we all talk about, namely water. These people have not had it for years and there has not been too much outcry over that, other than on my own part. The issue is it is costing €13,500 per house and the average cost allowed is €9,000 per house.
My issue with this expert panel from the Environmental Protection Authority, EPA, Irish Water and the Department is there is provision within their own criteria for exceptional funding to be provided in exceptional cases. This is an exceptional case and it ticks the boxes of their criteria, yet nowhere in the country has been given exceptional funding. There is a clear case for exceptional funding for these 17 households. I ask that this be revisited. I have spoken with the Minister and I wish to highlight this here today. These people in rural Ireland deserve fair play and a basic service. They are old and young people and they need to live in the space they are in but they cannot do so the way the water supply is.
I express my condolences to the family of Gay Byrne, his wife Kathleen, his daughters Suzy and Crona and his many and wide circle of colleagues and friends. Many of us grew up in a time whereby it is not possible to explain to people of this generation or those of the younger generation how influential Gay Byrne was with both his radio programme every morning and "The Late Late Show" when there were much fewer channels and people had a lot less choice in recording. So many people regarded it as must-see viewing live at the time and then spent the next few days discussing what happened on it. He is a huge loss to Irish life generally, and particularly to Irish broadcasting. I wanted to put that on the record.
Many of the points I might have raised such as health, the Shane O'Farrell case, social media and Kevin Lunney have all been mentioned so I will not mention them again. I support Senator Ó Donnghaile on Shannon Airport. On water, Senator Mulherin made a good case for 17 houses in Mayo but we have 600,000 people in north Dublin, Meath, Kildare, south Dublin and in parts of Dublin city who are again subject to a boil water notice. We have restaurants, pubs and schools affected by it. One in eight of the population of this country is affected by this boil water notice. It is not acceptable that within two weeks of the first scare we have this again. We need the Minister and Irish Water to tell us what is wrong. It is not acceptable that 12.5% of the population of this country are subject to a boil water notice and subject to going out and buying expensive water to do things as simple as brushing their teeth and washing their vegetables.
I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come in here and explain what is going on between the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Clare Bus with the delay in funding. It is totally unacceptable that vulnerable people in County Clare, who require the services of Clare Bus, would be hearing stories or speculation that there are issues. Whatever the issues are, I would like to hear about them. The Minister is probably due in here anyway to give us an update on rural transport so I offer encouragement for that to happen as soon possible.
I also listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning with surprise to hear John Moran talking about the lack of local authorities drawing down Government funding available to build houses. He bemoaned the lack of ambition of local authorities when it comes to building housing. I tend to agree with him. The Minister can only do so much. The money is available so what is going on that the local authorities are not escalating the issue of building houses? Something is wrong and there is a blockage somewhere. I would like some clarity on that. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, could come in at some stage for statements on housing in order that we might hear what their perspectives on that blockage are.
I was quite surprised that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality confirmed this morning that the Department has signed contracts with the provider of the emergency accommodation on Achill Island, which will have to be paid for. We have a situation now where there are bedrooms on Achill Island, contracted by the State, with nobody in them. It is not acceptable. This needs to be resolved. If 13 vulnerable women cannot go there for whatever reason, and I accept the reasons in good faith, are there any men or other people who can go down and take up this accommodation? We have an accommodation crisis when it comes to people seeking international protection in this country and it needs to be dealt with head-on.
Before calling on Senator McDowell and without wishing to cause any irritation, I remind Senators there is a rota of speakers which they decided on at the commencement of this Seanad. It is based on the strength of the groups in the Seanad and I assure Senators I am faithfully following it.
We have every confidence in the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
Thank you very much. We will not-----
Who is questioning that?
I did not say anybody was but I thought it necessary to point it out.
He is heading it off in advance.
Get your retaliation in first.
Last night on BBC Northern Ireland, the "Spotlight" programme detailed what has happened with Quinn Industrial Holdings and the campaign of intimidation, in particular the appalling things that were done to Kevin Lunney. I want to make a few points about these matters. First, there is no point in scoring cheap political points but there has clearly been an ongoing failure of policing in the Border region. Signs of an intimidatory kind should not be allowed to be put up anywhere on this island and should be removed the instant they go up. The craven attitude of some people who do not understand that the rule of law must be upheld not only applies in the Border region but it applied in Cherry Orchard where Dublin City Council was advising building contractors to pay off gangland people who were extorting money from them.
There is only one standard of law and it should apply everywhere on this island.
The second point I want to make is that the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, has advanced a view, with which I agree, that there must be a multi-agency approach to the Border situation and to what is and what is not happening there. The Revenue Commissioners, Army intelligence, Garda intelligence, the Garda and every force that is available North and South should be involved. Every security force and technique that available must be deployed.
The third point is that we cannot have a situation where industry is driven out of that area at the hands of people who are conducting such a campaign. How can that area possibly prosper and who in their right mind would invest in it if this kind of behaviour goes unchallenged? It is a challenge to the legitimacy of this State that such things were done to Kevin Lunney.
It is a real failure on the part of our State that this was building up incrementally and it was not taken seriously.
We sometimes owe a lot to BBC Northern Ireland. That programme was phenomenally gripping and horrifying. I wish to say to those in Montrose that it sets a standard by which they will be judged. BBC Northern Ireland recently ran a series on the Troubles which should be compulsory viewing in every school in Ireland. They ran a different programme called "Pop Goes Northern Ireland", in which footage and pop music are shown intertwined together to show the banality of the evil that was perpetrated over so many years.
When I say there was a failure of policing, I am not recriminating. I saw Garda Commissioner Drew Harris in the footage the other night following his father's coffin as a young man. I am not throwing any personal barb at anybody in any sense. However, we depend on An Garda Síochána. Kevin Lunney and his colleagues depend on it. It cannot simply fail to act in response to a situation that has been going on for years, with vandalism, intimidation and the like.
Paul Quinn's mother said that every bone in his body was broken when he was beaten to death with baseball bats. His crime, apparently, was to give lip to a paramilitary in the neighbourhood. In Crossmaglen, there is still a "Sniper at Work" poster on a telephone pole. Either we are serious about the rule of law on this island or we are not. I do not want to make points against the Minister for Justice and Equality, but I want the Government to realise that the wave of horror that came out of that programme last night, which will be broadcast again tonight, calls for a response at least as strong as that which followed the death of Veronica Guerin.
I thank the Senator. I agree with him on the task force. Some years ago, I happened to chair a committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly that recommended such a task force to aid the police on both sides of the Border. I do not know if the Senator was part of the Government at the time or not. I understood that our Government, the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive in place at the time agreed on this and it was established but I am not sure what it is doing. We brought it up at the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
I cannot recollect whether I was in office at the time.
We have a report on the matter.
I meant to say one other thing. The two State authorities on this island must make it clear that Quinn Industrial Holdings is never going back to its original ownership on foot of this campaign and this must stop.
On a point of order, I agree entirely with what Senator McDowell said there. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was responsible for an excellent report on criminality in the Border regions, so he knows more about this subject than most.
My point of order is a request on the back of what has been said.
With respect, it is probably not a point of order.
If the Leas-Chathaoirleach will give me some latitude, I promise him I will finish in ten seconds. It is a relevant point.
The Senator has already made his contribution.
The relevant point is this. Can we bring the Minister for Justice and Equality before us to address us on the issue that I raised earlier concerning Shane O'Farrell and on the very pertinent issues Senator McDowell has just raised? The Minister for Justice and Equality has spent 100 hours here debating a single Bill. I am asking him to come here to address this-----
Senator Mac Lochlainn should talk to his colleagues about that.
Good luck to the Minister if he manages to secure it-----
The Senator is interrupting his colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, who is the next speaker.
I wish to join other colleagues who noted the passing yesterday of Fr. Des Wilson. I spoke in this House just a few months ago to mark the 70th anniversary of Fr. Des's ordination into the priesthood. Given his sad passing yesterday, the best thing we could say about Fr. Des is that he was not just a believer in the gospel of hope and liberation; he was a practitioner of the gospel of hope and liberation. The Leader shared in my sentiments at the time, and yesterday marked Fr. Des's death in his own way. As the Leader is aware, Fr. Des fervently believed in education as a means of lifting people not only out of poverty, but out of oppression and the confines of the mind and the circumstances around them. He left a privileged position on the pulpit to live, work and struggle among his own people. He was steadfast in challenging the establishment, including the establishment within the Catholic Church, and for that he came under immense pressure but he never faltered. Fr. Des always kept the faith.
In the last two days in Belfast we have lost two towering figures in the struggle against injustice, inequality and oppression. Dickie Glenholmes was a friend to many and a towering figure throughout nationalist and republican Belfast and beyond. He equalled Fr. Des's stature in the lifelong contribution that he and his family made in their own way to changing all of our lives and circumstances.
When I mentioned Fr. Des's ordination of June this year, I sent him the video of my speech. He then sent me a text I have just come across today. It read: "Thank you so sincerely for the kindness of your gesture in the Seanad and for helping us to look forward to the best years. God Bless you and your work". I have no doubt that when he said "God Bless you and your work" he meant all of us in the Seanad. I am very conscious that it is because of people like Fr. Des and Dickie Glenholmes that we can look forward to the best years.
I thank the Senator. That was well said.
I wish to echo the words of Senator Michael McDowell about the appalling intimidation campaign being directed at individuals in Quinn Industrial Holdings, and I absolutely endorse what he said about the need for a task force. The appalling injuries inflicted on Kevin Lunney are really despicable. It is dreadful to see what appears to be an unconscionable failure of policing and justice in the Border region.
I would also like to express my condolences to the family of Gay Byrne. I did not have an opportunity to do so yesterday. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for putting a book of condolences in place here in Leinster House. That is very appropriate.
I second Senator Humphreys' amendment concerning the dementia unit and the call for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to come before the Seanad to discuss it.
Senator Mac Lochlainn and others have mentioned the O'Farrell case. I wish to support other colleagues in asking the Leader for a debate on the need for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell. Like others, I met Lucia O'Farrell, Gemma O'Farrell and other members of the family yesterday. Senator Norris has been really strong on this in the Seanad. Motions calling for a public inquiry have been passed in both the Dáil and the Seanad. The Minister for Justice and Equality has unfortunately narrowed the terms of reference. We need to reiterate and emphasise our calls for a full public inquiry into this case and the various failings that led to the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell, who was a law student in Trinity at the time of his death, to help ensure that the sort of failings and lapses that led to his death are not allowed to happen again in our system.
I am conscious of time so I will be brief. I support the Labour Party Senators' call for either the Minister for Health or the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability issues to come to the Chamber to discuss dementia services at St. Joseph's Centre, Crinken Lane, Shankill, which is run by the St. John of God order. Since 2012, there has been a history there of overruns. The order itself has been helping to meet the financial cost of running this amazing service. I do not know if any Members have been out there, but I have and I know the service.
This is very successful service, the place was purpose-built by the order itself and it has a very good record, particularly for those families involved who go there. It is a very co-operative effort, where families are welcome at any time to St. Joseph's, Crinken Lane, Shankill. It is a pity that this service is now under threat. Families and staff have received letters in this regard. To put it in context, between 2012 and last year, St. Joseph's had a loss of €7.2 million, which was covered by the St. John of God services group. This has to be acknowledged because religious orders sometimes get much knocking here, but this order is putting its own resources into continuously propping up this successful operation. Clearly, there is a shortfall of money that has to be found. It is a sad day for the staff and for the families but more importantly, it is an exceptionally sad day for the clients or patients who live there and get this support. There is a daily service and a residential service that needs our support. It is important that some Minister comes in here today and gives the House some reassurance on these matters.
I wish to join in the tributes to Fr. Des Wilson. When one considers the amazing contribution made by so many clergy on all sides of the denominational divide to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland - one thinks of people like Harold Good, John Dunlop, the late Monsignor Denis Faul, Fr. Alec Reid and the Redemptorists in Clonard - a great debt of gratitude is owed to them. When speaking to my Sinn Féin friends, I note it is important to talk of the gospel of liberation but there is no true gospel of liberation unless every human life is respected. The political parties in the North of Ireland in these days have a lot to answer for still in respect of that, having regard in particular to the recent imposition of a very radical abortion law in Northern Ireland by the British. There is a denial of that very gospel by those politicians. This should be a gospel for everybody, of all faiths and none, that every human life is to be respected at all stages.
I want to compliment Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell-----
Can I ask the Senator to repeat, please?
I am not claiming to be any better than everybody else.
Without interruptions, please, for Senator Mullen.
We all need to be consistent, and I point that finger at myself as well.
I wish that the Senator was consistent.
The Leader will have an opportunity to respond in a few minutes.
It is interesting how sensitive the Leader is, even when he is not being addressed himself on this issue.
I will answer when I get up.
It makes me wonder what his private thoughts on some of these matters actually are.
The Senators are eating into each other's time.
I want to pay tribute to the absolute common sense of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, where she mentions the proposed reforestation of Ireland on a scale not seen since ancient times. This is something I raised, not yesterday but on the previous occasion, albeit not so much in respect of forestry. In the previous climate debate we had with the Minister, I spoke about very ambitious targets being put willy-nilly into the proposals to prevent the worst excesses of climate change. I spoke about the targets to have a certain million number of electronic cars by a certain date. I raised the same issue that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is raising, which is that if there is no relationship between goals and their achievability, that is, if one sets unachievable goals for people, the whole process is brought into disrepute. A signal is sent out that what one is really doing is box-ticking for the sake of some other authority in order that something looks good on paper. That might satisfy campaigners who are interested in virtue signalling around climate but it is no way to lead the public towards change that is needed. There must be honesty about what is achievable and one cannot be setting targets that look ridiculous on paper or are ridiculous in reality as one then brings the whole process into disrepute.
Somewhat in the same vein, I want to pick up what has been said in respect of our policy on asylum seekers and economic migrants, which was something that I had intended to speak on yesterday but because of the tributes to Gay Byrne, I decided to wait until today. Senator McDowell made some prophetic references yesterday to what is in his article in The Irish Times today. He is absolutely right to insist upon a distinction between asylum seekers and people who are fleeing poverty. To do so is not to evince any lack of sympathy for those who are seeking to escape poverty or to suggest that we should do nothing to help such people, it is simply to say that distinctions matter.
If we do not talk honestly about distinctions or if we accuse those who make such distinctions of in some way seeking to subvert a policy of generosity and support for people from other lands who need to come to our shores in various different situations, then what we are really doing is serving our own selfish political ends by seeking to be more virtuous than the other in this debate.
I thank the Senator.
Part of what is going on here in our country is that in the absence of a perceived unifying source of moral authority, people are competing to be the most moral in the group. The danger of that is that we will not get to the solutions that we need.
Or to the facts.
I have always said that we need to have a structured policy towards immigration. That includes reaching out, not just to those who can come to our shores who have particular skills who may not be asylum seekers and obviously have the first claim, but also to people who do not necessarily have skills that we are desperately clamouring for, as part of some programme of structured migration as an act of solidarity with those in the developing world.
I thank the Senator.
I believe we are going to have a debate on the matter.
Countries that have a colonial history have greater responsibilities but Ireland should be seen to lead the way in that regard. I absolutely support Senator McDowell when he calls to account those who have tackled the Taoiseach in recent days. He was doing no more than stating facts.
Yes, the facts.
If we cannot have facts discussed, we cannot solve problems.
We have the fairy tales of Ireland.
I will stand with him on that point, even if I end up disagreeing with him on the substantial policy.
The Senator cannot discuss this matter in detail on the Order of Business where everybody is allowed two minutes. I gave the Senator latitude because he was interrupted.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach who has been most tolerant.
It was two minutes-----
I was interrupted by-----
-----where there is one item for everybody, and two items for the Leaders. I finally call on the Leader to respond.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the 17 Members-----
I believe it was 18.
I have 17 but that is okay. Can I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to enforce the rule about one item per Member, rather than the shopping list that we receive most days, if he is to be consistent in his application of the rule? The point I was making to Senator Mullen-----
It was 18, incidentally.
-----which he did not like, was that, to be fair-----
Why was it that the Leader was not able to wait to make the point?
Order now, please.
He was jumping out of his box.
A bit like the Senator himself. Rather than serving his own selfish political interests, he should remember that we were paying tribute to a man who died, rather than adding other matters to the tribute. That is the point I was making.
Through the Chair, please.
The Leader is afraid of factual analysis, is that it?
This is shameful.
Rather than serving his own selfish political interests-----
Just because Sinn Féin-----
We cannot have interruptions. The Leader to respond, please.
This is typical fundamentalist behaviour.
By serving his own selfish political interests the Senator could not allow a man-----
I believe the late Fr. Wilson would agree with me-----
I ask the Leader to respond through the Chair and to ignore the interruptions from the other side.
-----that there are some hypocritical people here who talk about cherishing life and then they betray it.
An intolerant fundamentalist taking advantage of this.
I will not have interruptions from any Senator while the Leader is responding, or interruptions when anybody is speaking. Ciúnas now, please. The Leader to respond, please.
If Members are paying tribute to a person who has died, it should be on that particular issue, rather than adding any other vested interest group's addendums or agendas to it.
The Leader is making new rules for us now in the Seanad.
Senator Mullen will not silence me, ever, I can assure him of that.
Ignore it Leader, please.
If the Senator wishes to practice the gospel, please do so in a consistent and fair manner.
You are all being disruptive now. Senators, please.
I do not claim to be better than others.
I do not either, any day of the week.
Senator Ardagh made reference to the issue of health. There is a huge issue on admission to our emergency departments. I will make the points again here this morning. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are presenting to emergency departments. We are also seeing an increase in delayed discharges, which is adding to the issue. There is an issue with the management of our health service at the coalface. I also make the point, which I made yesterday, that there are vested interests at play here where it suits people to be on trolleys and there is a game going on within the health system. That needs to be called out as well. One person on a trolley is too many but we have seen an increase for a variety of reasons.
If one casts one's mind back, which nobody in this House has mentioned at all, for the first nine months of this year we have seen an increase of 3% in people presenting to emergency departments and the number of emergency department admissions has increased by 1.4% compared to this time last year.
In September the number of patients subject to a delayed transfer of care was 25% higher than in the same month last year. What was the reason for it? There is the highest ever health spend in the history of the State, at almost €17 billion. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made a point about the number of trees planted per day. Consider what we are spending on the health system per day. Can Members tell me why we are not getting it right? It is because of vested interests.
What is the connection with trees?
That is irrelevant.
I ask Senator Mullen to do the maths. If Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell can do them-----
It was a mathematical analogy.
We have put in place a winter plan, with additional funding of €26 million. I ask Members of the House to have a real debate about health in our society. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has made his point about coffee cups. There will be a public consultation process in that regard, to which I look forward.
Senator Lawless referred to the direct provision system, as did many other Members. I answered the question yesterday. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter. In his contribution yesterday Senator McDowell said there was a need for a discussion on economic migrancy and asylum seeking. It might not have met everyone's approval, but it is a fair point on which we need to have a debate. I will be happy to have a debate on it in the House.
Senators Conway-Walsh, Wilson, Mullen and Ó Donnghaile paid tribute to Fr. Des Wilson. I addressed this matter on the Order of Business yesterday and have done so again today. On my own behalf and that of the House, I pay tribute to a man who was a bridge-builder long before it became a political campaign slogan. He was a person who worked hard, as Senator Ó Donnghaile said, and was immersed in his community. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was a student at Maynooth. He was of the people and imbued with the spirit and importance of education and, as Senator Wilson said, being the people's priest. Senator Wilson also referred to how he and his uncle, John, had been in the seminary. At least the Senator is continuing the great tradition of being in the seminary and a practising politician.
That is the point I was making.
Senator Wilson is aware of the importance of education and community. Our world is a poorer place today because of the loss of Fr. Des Wilson. We sympathise with his family.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of pyrite. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter.
Senators Mulherin and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of group water schemes. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter, but I do not have the answer to the question about the developer report. Perhaps Senator Conway-Walsh might table a Commencement matter for discussion next week.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to the tragic death of Ana Kriégel and the sentencing yesterday. We sympathise with her family on their tragic and sad loss. The Senator subsequently made a point about the use of social media, bullying in schools and pornography, on which we should have a national conversation because there is a growing epidemic in the country. The Internet and social media have become tools and part of our daily lives, but I wonder if we know how best to manage and use them. We need to have that conversation as part of a dialogue on the issue.
Senator Ó Ríordáin also referred to autism services. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House to address the matter.
Senators Feighan, Wilson and McDowell referred to the appalling treatment of Mr. Kevin Lunney. All of us in this House and all citizens of the Republic stand by the right of every individual to be able to work, to have his or her own company and to be able to participate without fear of intimidation or brutality in his or her daily work and daily life. I listened to some of the "Spotlight" programme which made for harrowing listening and viewing. I also believe, notwithstanding the comments made by many about the failure of policing, that there has been a real failure of individual citizenship and community in bringing the people responsible to account. The posters were made by a particular company, procured and erected. People know who did it, but if we do not stand up together to the bully boy, the bully boy wins. As Senator McDowell said, Quinn Industrial Holdings will never go back to where it was. If we do not answer the people responsible now, there will be no investment in such areas in the future and it will be a black mark on all of us and the State. I welcome the Garda Commissioner's meeting with the directorate. The Garda armed support unit has been sent to the Border and there has been an increase in the level of surveillance. There is also an obligation on individuals and communities to bring the people responsible to the fore. People know who they are. If we are going to allow the bully boy to win, it is a poor day for all of us. The points related to the task force are well made. I heard Senator McDowell speak on radio and did not disagree with anything he said. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House in due course for a debate on the matter.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of trees and asked whether we were living in Tír na nÓg or tír na fada. I am not sure who wrote or procured the figures the Senator gave, but I admire her for her research into the matter. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, was here yesterday for a discussion on climate change. It was a pity we did not have that information to give to him.
I think it was a clerical error and that they were talking about pine needles, not trees.
Perhaps the Senator is right, but I do not have the answer to his question. It is important, however, that any climate action measure or plan not be fantasy. To be fair to the Minister, if one looks at where we were a decade ago, there was an umemployment rate of 15%. He was the Minister who introduced the Action Plan for Jobs. Today, less than 5% of the people are unemployed. To be fair to the Minister, he has a track record of achieving. I will endeavour to have the matter clarified for the Senator.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell mentioned the good news for Shannon - connectivity with Charles de Gaulle Airport - as well as the issue of aviation. Members will be glad to hear that the Minister, Deputy Ross, will be in the House on 20 November.
Senator Mac Lochlainn mentioned Shane O'Farrell, as did another Senator. I do not have the name in my notes and cannot remember who raised the issue, for which I apologise.
I raised it.
As I said yesterday, we all want to get to the truth surrounding the circumstances of the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell. The Government has not demurred in that regard. As Senator Mac Lochlainn said, the Minister for Justice and Equality appointed a retired judge, Judge Gerard Haughton, to conduct a scoping exercise. His report is due to be presented in the middle of November, following which there will be a further evaluation. From my information which is second-hand, Judge Haughton has been engaging with the family who I think have stopped co-operating with him in the scoping exercise. They are my words. My information is that the Minister is awaiting the report of Judge Haughton which is due to be presented next week or the week after. There will then be a further evaluation. All Senators want the circumstances surrounding Shane O'Farrell's death to be fully investigated. The scoping exercise is being carried out. It will I hope present an opportunity for a further examination by the Minister. Waiting until the scoping exercise is finished and the Minister comes to the House after the report has been published might be the proper way forward.
Senators Humphreys and Boyhan referred to St. Joseph's. The matter is important. As Senator Boyhan rightly said, it has been a source of significant discomfort and disquiet for the families and those who use the services of the facility.
My information is that there has been an ongoing engagement process between the HSE and St. John of God, which provides the service. What is regrettable is that St. John of God did not inform anybody before writing to the staff and families regarding the matter. St. Joseph's is a residential and day care centre of great importance. As Senator Humphreys said, it is one of the biggest in the country. There have been ongoing issues relating to financial deficits. That poses a question about the service level agreement. The centre receives one of the highest rates of subvention from the State. I believe the matter comes under the remit of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, whom I am informed is not available to come to the House today. Through my office, I have sought to bring him to the House on Tuesday next, if that is agreeable to Senator Humphreys. I reiterate that ongoing engagement is taking place between St. John of God and the HSE. I hope Senator Humphreys is agreeable to the matter being discussed on Tuesday, but if not, I will be unable to accept his amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Horkan also raised the importance of the regrettable boil water notice. Does it not show the importance of investment in water infrastructure? That is what the Irish Water capital plan is about, amounting to €11 billion over a decade. The issue is important and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter next week.
Senator Conway raised the issue of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ross, the NTA and Clare Bus. Again, I do not have the answer, but I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it. Perhaps Senator Conway will table a Commencement matter on the issue. I do not have an answer to the issue concerning the active contract.
I already responded to the matters raised by Senator Bacik, as I did with to those raised by Senators Ó Donnghaile, Boyhan and Mullen.
I thank the Leader. Senator Humphreys has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health or the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability issues on resourcing for St. Joseph's nursing home for dementia patients-----
Could I make a point of order, a Leas-Chathaoirligh? It is not the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability, it is the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health and older people.
I am reading the amendment as it was submitted.
I appreciate that.
Senator Humphreys wants the debate to be taken today.
I wish to make a brief intervention. I do not want to divide the House on this matter. The Leader has given a commitment that the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who is the relevant Minister, will be in the House on Tuesday to respond to it. If I accept the Leader's proposal to wait until next Tuesday, could I get a commitment that the Minister of State will work night and day to resolve this issue rather than waiting until next Tuesday to deal with it? Some 180 families have been left in limbo and I really want the matter to be resolved before next Tuesday. If the Leader can provide such a commitment I am happy not to press the amendment.
Following the group meeting, when I leave the Chamber I will make contact with the Minister of State's office and ask the office to liaise with Senator Humphreys.
Is that acceptable?
That is acceptable.
Is it agreed that the amendment is withdrawn? Agreed.