The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the reappointment of an Coimisinéir Teanga, to be referred to committee without debate, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Bill 2018 - Report Stage [amendments from Dáil Éireann] and Final Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.; and No. 3, statements on services at St. Joseph's Shankill, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 60 minutes, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I want to raise two matters. The first relates to the drug Spinraza. Children with spinal muscular dystrophy are still waiting on the roll-out of, and treatment with, Spinraza, despite the Minister’s announcement approving this drug last June. To date we have learned only three children are receiving the treatment out of a possible 25. We all remember the Minister’s major announcement but it seems obstacles have been put in the way of the roll-out. Any obstacles should have been foreseen before the Minister made the major announcement and gave such hope to the families involved. The Government appears to be excellent at making announcements but its follow through on them leaves much to be desired. The announcement about Spinraza was particularly sickening when it is children who are affected. Families have had their hopes dashed as they are not getting the treatment they were promised and about which the Government made a big deal. We need to get Spinraza back on the agenda and figure out how to roll it out as soon as possible.
The second issue I want to raise relates to the rent increases we are seeing in the private sector. The daft.ie report indicated that average rents have increased by €373 since 2008. The Minister is now targeting social housing rents in Dublin City Council by refusing to plug the hole in the council’s funding through central funds despite his promises. We know also that rents are now higher than mortgages. Students in Cork are paying more than €1,000 per month for a room. In Dublin 8, rents have increased by 125% in the past nine years. Rent costs in this city are insane. All Members mention them every week. We have Rebuilding Ireland but it has rebuilt nothing. We need to prioritise building houses on public lands. We also need to consider doing the unimaginable, namely, supporting private house builders. We need to look at VAT, development levies, Irish Water connection charges, ESB charges and figure out a way to relieve the upfront payment and have it staggered. We need to do something in respect of housing. We need to have a decent public house building project.
We cannot deny that we also need private housing, which is not being built. I ask the Leader to bring this message home because it is not acceptable. Young adults are not able to afford rent or buy their own homes. It is just unthinkable for them. They cannot even think about owning their own homes because the situation is so dire and the supply of housing in the country is so low.
I welcome the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, executive group that was in Leinster House today to engage in cross-party meetings on the terms and conditions of county councillors. The Moorhead report is expected to be released fairly soon. As the Leader also has an interest in this matter, perhaps he might do what he can to get that report released.
Gay Byrne was the greatest radio and television presenter this country has ever had. He brought many issues that were taboo to the public attention. His passing, sad as it was, was not sudden or unexpected. It was right and proper that he was given a farewell, and it was also right and proper that it was attended by political and religious leaders and members of civic society.
Friday, 8 November was also the 59th anniversary of the Niemba massacre, the day the first Irish soldiers were killed on overseas duties with the United Nations. Irish soldiers have served since then in places such as the Congo, Cyprus, Sinai, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Liberia, Chad and Syria. The Naval Service has served in the Mediterranean. For over 40 years we have slept safely in our beds knowing our borders were guarded by members of the Defence Forces. Our Defence Forces have never been found wanting with respect to aid for the civil power. Every day, members of the Defence Forces are working for the citizens of this country in bomb disposal, drug interdiction, tackling people smuggling and protecting our coastline and fisheries.
In all, a total of 86 Irish soldiers of all ranks have died in the service of the United Nations since 1960. Friday was their day of remembrance. It was the day members of the Defence Forces prepared and trained for in order to put their best foot forward for the families of the fallen. However, instead of honouring our fallen on their day, the event was postponed because of Gay Byrne's funeral. He was an icon. Would the UK have postponed its remembrance day if a television personality who had passed away was to be buried on the same day? I have said many times that we give our Defence Forces much flattery but little respect. By postponing the day military families get to remember their loved ones in the company of other families, we have sunk to a new low. Gay Byrne deserved everything this country could give him to mark his passing, but surely the funeral could have been co-ordinated and the military event scheduled for the same day. I am deeply embarrassed by the disrespect shown to my former colleagues in the Defence Forces. I am fairly certain that no President or Taoiseach ever rearranged his or her diary in order to attend the funerals of those who paid the ultimate price in the name of this country. I ask the Leas-Chathaoirleach to indulge me as I read the names of those who died: Felix Grant, Justin MacCarthy, Kevin Gleeson, Hugh Gaynor, Peter Kelly, Liam Dougan, Matthew Farrell, Thomas Fennell, Anthony Browne, Michael McGuinn, Gerard Killeen, Patrick Davis, Liam Kelly, Luke Kelly, Edward Gaffney, Patrick Mullins, Michael Nolan, Michael Fallon, Patrick Mulcahy, Andrew Wickham, Patrick Riordan, John Geoghegan, John Power, Ronald McCann, John McGrath, Thomas McMahon, Wallace MacAuley, John Hamill, William Hetherington, James Ryan, Christopher McNamara, James Fagan, Ronald Byrne, Michael Kennedy, Brendan Cummins, Thomas Wickham, Michael Nestor, Gerard Moon, Thomas Reynolds, Philip Grogan, Stephen Griffin, Thomas Barrett, Derek Smallhorne, Edward Yates, Vincent Duffy, John Marshall, James Martin, Caoimhín Seoighe-----
I will read out the remaining names. I believe they are entitled to this respect. Otherwise, I would not have dreamt of putting it on the record.
The Senator has gone a minute over time.
I will conclude quickly. Hugh Doherty, Niall Byrne, Gerard Hodges, Peter Burke, Gregory Morrow, Thomas Murphy, George Murray, Paul Fogarty, Aengus Murphy, William O'Brien, Dermot McLoughlin, John Fitzgerald, George Bolger, Paul Cullen, Patrick Wright, Michael McNeela, Fintan Heneghan, Thomas Walsh, Mannix Armstrong, Charles Forrester, Michael O'Hanlon, Michael McCarthy, Peter Ward, Martin Tynan, Declan Stokes, Stephen O'Connor, John Lynch, Michael Dowling, Kevin Barrett, Billy Kedian, Jonathan Campbell, Declan Deere, Brendan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Lawlor, Jonathan Murphy, Peadar Ó Flaithearta, Derek Mooney, Paul Delaney and John Jack Griffin. The last two men held the rank of lieutenant colonel. I read out their names because I believe they were entitled to respect. I respect them deeply, as I know Members do also.
I respect them too, and I saluted them. Their service was very worthy. Does the Senator understand the predicament he put the Chair in by going two minutes over time?
I very much appreciate the Leas-Chathaoirleach allowing me do that.
Before calling the next speaker, I want to welcome Deputy John Deasy and Councillor Cormac Devlin who are in the Gallery. I agree with the Senator's remarks about the all-party group who are here with Councillor Devlin and wish them success. I call Senator Gavan.
Neil Young is 75 years old today.
Who is he?
It is hard to believe. I know that because Marty Whelan mentioned it on his breakfast show on Lyric FM this morning. That is a show that is broadcast from Dublin but produced from Limerick. We are very proud of Lyric FM in Limerick.
And so you should be. It is brilliant.
We are very proud of the fantastic public broadcasting service produced from Limerick for the past 20 years.
It is a broadcasting service that RTÉ now wants to shut down.
That is not true.
It is an absolute disgrace. Every job in Limerick is to go. That is what RTÉ has said. It is 100% true. I can tell the Leader that the people of Limerick will not forgive Fine Gael if Lyric FM in Limerick is shut down. It is the jewel in the crown of our arts and culture, and the Leader is laughing about it.
I am laughing at the Senator being political. He should have been here-----
Of course I am being political. I am a politician.
Where was he earlier?
What does the Leader expect me to be?
Where was he earlier when Senator Maria Byrne raised it?
I was in the Chamber.
The Deputy can put up his video if he wants, like he usually does.
The Leader knows he will have an opportunity to respond.
I know, but I hate that kind of rubbish.
A Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader asked me where I was when the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was in the Chamber earlier. I was sitting in this seat listening, and I can tell the Leader what he said. He said he was not across these matters and that they appear to be within the remit of RTÉ. He washed his hands like Pontius Pilate.
That is ridiculous.
I can tell the Leader that the people of Limerick will not stand for having their jobs removed from Lyric FM. Limerick has been the centre of Lyric FM for the past 20 years.
We are proud of the broadcasters. We are proud of the service.
The Senator is wrong.
However, we have this know-nothing Government that does not believe in public services-----
Here we go again.
-----clamouring to shut it down.
The usual old crap.
Instead of regionalising jobs it wants to centralise jobs back to Dublin. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we invite the Minister back to the House to debate this matter in detail so that all of us can have a say in terms of the future of Lyric FM in Limerick.
That is a good proposal.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes. I propose that we ask the Minister to come into the House today or tomorrow. We will insist on it.
We cannot deal with business for tomorrow. The Senator is proposing that for today.
Today is fine.
He has been here already.
Order. Members will have an opportunity. I thank the Senator.
This morning, I got the chance to speak with representatives from the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA. My colleague, Senator Craughwell, mentioned it and I know this is something the Leader is aware of also. LAMA represents councillors across 31 local authorities and it has been working hard to raise concerns about the working conditions that are driving many away from local politics, which is very worrying. It is an issue I have raised many times in this House, as have several colleagues from across the political divide. Since the Local Government Reform Act 2014, councillors have seen a big change in their role.
I speak to them regularly, and consistently hear they struggle to cover larger areas with limited time and resources. Local councillors are often the first port of call for people, especially the vulnerable, who have an issue or problem. Aside from attending council meetings and votes, they need to ensure they are available if someone needs help, if a crucial local service is not working or if a person relies on State support to get by, they have to be there to answer the call. This leads to councillors trying to play a full-time role but out of hours or by taking unpaid leave. As councillors are not paid a full-time wage, most need to keep up employment in another job, which is then put under great pressure. For many councillors who do not have much flexibility in work or do not come from a wealthy background, it is simply not possible to do the job properly. The obvious issue is that it squeezes people on lower incomes out of local government. So many fantastic councillors - people who represented their local community so well - have been forced to step away from the role because it just was not sustainable. Local and national government will be much worse off if we continue to shut out people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. While some of the reforms in recent years, to expenses and allowances, have been welcome, the feedback is that the process is very complicated and has not resolved the deeper issues. Ultimately, we need a real debate on the role we want for local councillors and local government, and on how inclusive we want the position to be. Currently, we are caught between two poles. It is not a voluntary position with a low level of commitment, but neither is it not a full-time position with the resources available to do it properly. I have never met a councillor who took up the role because he or she sought a high-earning career. They just want the job to be sustainable.
In this light, I call on the Government finally to publish the Moorhead report examining the issues. Plans need to be outlined to deal with pay and conditions, to support attending meetings and to examine the mileage system. As we begin another five-year term following the local elections, I ask that the Government do this as a matter of urgency.
As I was not in the Chamber last week, I send my condolences to Gay Byrne's family. As Senators will know, he played a pivotal role in my career and will be sadly missed. All my family loved him dearly. He was a neighbour of ours and we will miss him dearly.
During this session, both Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann passed detailed motions on the death of Shane O'Farrell and calling for an independent public inquiry. The Government responded by kicking the matter into touch and appointing Judge Haughton to conduct a scoping inquiry. Judge Haughton, who is a very decent man, made recommendations in respect of the terms of reference but they were completely ignored by the Government, which is astonishing.
The Department of Justice and Equality has done the following: removed references to Shane, and to the family's rights under the European Court of Human Rights to ensure an effective investigation into the unlawful killing; removed consideration of the prosecution of Shane's case or of the coroner's inquest into Shane's death, in which serious irregularities have emerged; limited the judge to take into account the outcome of prepared reports that are, in the family's view, deficient, rather than a review of the investigations behind the reports, as originally envisaged in the February terms of reference; and removed any investigation into the previous prosecutions of the accused, despite him being in breach of multiple counts of bail when he killed Shane. I again call, therefore, for an independent public inquiry. I do not understand how the Government can defy the majority wishes of both Houses of Parliament.
On another example of kicking the can down the road, what will happen in the case of Standing Order 41? I have raised the issue consistently and there is universal agreement on it, but it was kicked into touch by referring it to the Dáil.
The matter is before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
It has been before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for 100 years but it is doing damn all about it. I want the matter addressed now and am very angry about it. We have an opportunity to-----
Will the Leader shut up?
I will not.
It is ridiculous that the Leader of the House does not know how to conduct himself when people raise serious issues in the House.
That is not parliamentary. Order, please.
Telling the Leader to shut up is not a good way to conduct a debate.
It is about time he did.
The Senator's behaviour is not edifying-----
We will not have an internal debate on the matter, Leader.
I will not take such behaviour from the father of the House.
The Leader will have an opportunity to respond. Do not worry.
It is about time the Leader kept quiet.
Senator Norris, without interruption.
I would like to be able to speak without this heckling. I do not mind intelligent interruptions but the kind of rubbish that comes from over there is a bit much.
Senator Norris might practise himself sometimes.
I asked about Standing Order 41. This is an attempt through blustering by the Leader to cover up what is an absolute scandal.
The Senator raised the matter and we will hear the Leader respond to it. My understanding is that-----
Let us get this done before the next election.
The Senator has made his point.
The final issue I would like to raise is hate crime. There have been a series of attacks on gay people, in particular the one on a very decent man named Marc Power, who came in to see me. He was savagely attacked by a group of youths who were obviously intent on killing him. There is no question about that. He was lucky enough to be able to defend himself and escape. An Garda Síochána has spoken about hate crime. It is proceeding on the basis that it is a hate crime but there is no legislative basis for this. I ask that we consider the introduction of legislation on hate crime.
Hopefully, I will behave a bit better.
I beg your pardon?
I said, hopefully, I will behave a bit better and not tell anyone to shut up. I think it was outrageous of the Senator to do so.
Go away out of that. That is rubbish.
I would not take it from my children so I do not think I would take it from a grown adult. The UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women will be held on 25 November - less than two weeks away. To coincide with this day, Safe Ireland, whose headquarters is in Athlone, will host a national conference in Westport. The theme of the conference is safe homes, safe communities. Safe Ireland constantly challenges us to imagine an Ireland where women and children are free from domestic violence and asks us to dare to dream that we could rear a generation without exposure to violence or abuse. This conference is not just for women or survivors of abuse. It is for everybody, especially policymakers.
I have raised the issue of domestic violence on several occasions in this House and elsewhere . This Government, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have done more than anyone else in the past 30 years to tackle domestic violence on a legislative basis, but while legislation is vitally important, societal change is often more about changing attitudes than changing laws. While we need to build a strategy to make real change in how we respond effectively to violence and abuse in our homes and communities, each of us needs to examine our own attitudes and actions towards women and children and indeed people in general. Whether it is a tweet that reinforces negative attitudes to women or the blatant misogyny of various individuals and organisations in our society, we must be conscious and aware that the extreme behaviour we have seen in recent tragic cases such as that of Ana Kriégel and many similar cases has its genesis in the everyday undermining of the value of women. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us as representatives and members of society to be part of the solution.
I ask that people from here consider attending this conference in Westport. I think people have a lot to learn and a lot could be learned at this conference. I ask the Leader to put it out through his colleagues that this conference is being held on 25 November. It would be a very worthwhile exercise for everybody. I also ask people leaving here today to ask themselves what they have done to counter negative attitudes to women and people in general.
I fully endorse everything said about our councillors and the work they put in on our behalf. As a former councillor, I am well aware of the workload involved, but this workload has trebled or quadrupled since the time I was a councillor because of the so-called better government policy that, unfortunately, was implemented by the previous Government. I endorse what was said about pay and conditions and call for the Moorhead report to be published as a matter of urgency.
I fully agree with what Senator Gavan said about Lyric FM. While I appreciate that his main concern is the jobs that may be lost in Limerick, there is a bigger picture here.
The Senator might consider amending his proposal to amend the Order of Business that we have a general discussion on public broadcasting. It is important that we have this discussion as a matter of urgency and make our input on the future of public broadcasting and, indeed, the local radio service in this country. Unfortunately, we are in danger of public broadcasting being obliterated. There is a decline in the viewing figures for RTÉ. I believe that some of the presenters are paid far too much for the quality of their presentation and that is something that should be looked at as well. We should look at bringing in new talent and new ideas, shaking the system up, making public broadcasting relevant to today, and take into consideration the threat from social media and other platforms. I would like to see a general discussion on public broadcasting.
I take it Senator Wilson is calling on the Leader to schedule a debate on public broadcasting-----
-----rather than proposing an amendment to what is already proposed.
I am agreeing with the points that have been made by Senator Gavan but we should have a more general discussion on the entire public broadcasting system.
I thank Senator Wilson.
I made some references in good faith last week to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, regarding trees. I was talking about the fact that we will plant a lot of trees in the next ten years. I certainly did not mean to undermine the Minister in any way. I have a weeping willow at my house, which is actually bigger than the house, because I love trees and I think they are the last bastion of the lung of our island. The Department came back to me stating it is planting not 25 million trees a year but 22 million trees a year, which means they are planting 61,000 trees per day. I call this "The fairy tales of Ireland." That is one thing that gets on the public's nerves, when one knocks on doors and promises before midnight are not kept the following day. I would like the Minister to outline - he need not come in to do it - how he intends to go about this, through the county councils, per day, per hour and per minute and the span and expanse of the trees and where they will be planted. I am very much in favour of the planting of trees but I would like to know how this fantasy is turning into a reality. Perhaps it will happen individually in people's gardens or on their roads, but how will it happen? It is something that is achievable, unlike the 1 million electric cars. The latter is not achievable from the point of view of expense. I like the idea of the trees except that it did not seem to make sense. I thank the Minister for his reply. The Minister has only taken the number down by 3 million - we are on 61,000 a day. Could the Minister let me know how that will happen?
I happened to be in CareBright in Bruff in County Limerick where I visited the first purpose-built community for people living with dementia. Never have I been in something as magnificent. I commend any Senator here who is living in or representing the area of Bruff and any Deputy or Minister who is involved in it. In fact, it was the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who was mentioned by those working there. It is a credit to the people of Bruff in County Limerick. It is magnificent, involving three houses with six people who are suffering from dementia of whom there are 55,000 in this country, and an area of independent living, outside and inside. I was so impressed with the artwork, the cooking, the music and the living quarters as I bring my own pathology - not necessarily dementia, although many around the House might think so - of growing old well and in safety. In addition, there are there goats and their dog, Patch. It is a template like Ms Margharita Solon's template in Naas at McAuley Place. There are probably many more of them around Ireland. Certainly this is a template that could be retraced in many towns in Ireland.
We do not hear many positive things but CareBright in Bruff run by Colette Ryan is a credit to everybody involved in the building, development and action of that dementia centre in Bruff. All Senators should visit it because it is artistically, socially and humanely heartwarming.
I raise the decision made by the ESB last Friday on the proposed closure of the peat burning plants in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough. Clearly the ESB is reneging on its commitment to maintain power generation in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough until 2027. As we all know, this is a major blow for staff, their families and the entire region. I met the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, during their visit to the region yesterday. All three Ministers met management of Bord na Móna, the ESB, trade union representatives and community representatives. It is very important that Ministers and the Government take heed of the concerns raised during the visit yesterday. All of the Ministers said they found it helpful but we need to make sure that all of the measures to be put in place will support the affected workers. It is absolutely essential that we have a whole-of-Government response to this latest announcement and that all possible supports are put in place for the workers and the entire region.
I am aware the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has appointed Kieran Mulvey as the just transition commissioner whose role will be to co-ordinate all elements of the just transition throughout the region. However, to meet the objective of a just transition, supports for the affected workers and the region must be ensured. Funding was provided in budget 2020 to support retraining and reskilling workers, bog rehabilitation works and a new scheme in the midlands to support housing upgrades. It is critical that an adequate fund is in place for this because the announcement last Friday has accelerated the pace at which both plants are to close. It is critical that an adequate fund is put in place to support the affected workers and the region. In light of the fact this is a significant blow to the midlands, I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the Seanad to discuss further how the Government will take on board the concerns raised with all three Ministers during yesterday's visit.
I second the proposal by my colleague, Senator Gavan, to amend the Order of Business.
Every week, we find out more about the destruction of our environment. We now have something that happened recently, which has been spoken about by two other Senators. Yesterday, the State was fined €5 million by the European Court of Justice and faces daily fines of €15,000 until compliance with environmental legislation is met. I am not sure when the €15,000 daily fines will start. Perhaps we can get an idea. This is because of the failure by the State to comply with EU legislation that could have prevented the awful landslide at the Derrybrien wind farm in Galway and the killing of 50,000 fish in the surrounding region. The State consistently ignored previous rulings of the European Court of Justice. There was a landslide of tons of peat when peat and forest were removed to a depth of 5.5 m to develop the wind turbines.
Imagine the removal of that amount of peat and forestry. It would never happen today.
Are there plans to change legislation governing planning permission and to introduce more stringent rules to ensure adherence to environmental policies? We heard today that hundreds of thousands of kilogrammes of potent greenhouse gases had been leaking from the Moneypoint plant for quite some time, yet the ESB, a semi-State body, did not see fit to inform the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The EPA is now considering enforcement action. The gases in question have a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Will the Minister update us on both issues, but overall on policy, planning and oversight by the EPA, which disgracefully was not informed about the Moneypoint plant issue?
In the context of the Derrybrien case, I ask that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, be invited to the House to provide some clarification. The decision of the Court of Justice to fine Ireland €5 million for failing to ensure that an environmental impact assessment, EIA, was carried out prior to the granting of planning permission is concerning. It is a significant fine. At the beginning of the year, it was expected that the fine would be €2 million. Of even more significance is the €15,000 daily penalty that the State will be fined until the lack of an EIA is addressed. In a year, that amounts to €5.475 million, which is a great deal of money.
Of particular concern is the fact that the original decision was made in 2008, when the failure to supply an EIA was identified. It would have been expected that issues arising out of the 2008 judgment would have been addressed by now, so finding ourselves in a situation where we are not only being slapped with a major fine but also where we will be fined on a daily basis requires considerable examination and means that questions need to be answered about how the authorities have been addressing the court's concerns. It is important that we be environmentally responsible. Without a doubt, however, the Derrybrien case has all the hallmarks of environmental recklessness, given the fallout and the environmental impact at the time, including the massive fish kill and local waters being polluted. This situation points to the need to get things right.
Questions arise about whether our planning system is fit for purpose, particularly given that we have failed to get to grips with the direction in which this judgment sent us. It raises the question whether we have a handle on environmental legislation and environmental obligations, including a balance between conservation objectives and those socio-economic objectives that are legitimate on behalf of the people. I suggest that we do not. We only need to look at the obstacles to building roads around Galway, with its ring road and the N59, Mayo and the rest of the western seaboard, which has an environmental designation. Due to us not having a handle on the question of what we are required to do to comply with environmental legislation, there is a paralysis in the system, be it on the part of local authorities, An Bord Pleanála or the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS. Everyone is afraid to make a decision that will end up before the Court of Justice. Aside from the Derrybrien court case, this is costing the State a great of money in terms of delayed delivery of infrastructure and the actual financial cost of obtaining planning permission. Projects are being held back for years and vital infrastructure like roads, bridges, wind farms and so on are not being delivered because we seem to be at sea.
It would be helpful if the Minister attended the House and these issues were addressed. I have been raising concerns about them for some time. The situation does not seem to be getting any better. Is it a question of resources? Do the NPWS and planning authorities need more resources, including environmental professionals, not to provide further paralysis but to provide clarification? We need to get development, but in an environmentally responsible way. The recent judgment raises many questions that need answers.
It is important that the Minister comes in here, and sooner rather than later. That €5 million, and the €15,000 a day, could be spent on many worthwhile projects.
An accountant filing many tax returns has just contacted me. The Leader may be aware of this already, but the Revenue system crashed today.
The deadline has been extended.
I know the deadline has been slightly extended. I was checking the latest update on RTÉ and it stated that the system was back online at 15.48 p.m. I heard from that accountant just before I came into the Chamber, however, that the system had not yet come back online. The Revenue is acknowledged by most people as being one of the most efficient parts of the public service and I give much credit to the organisation. The system is under more strain this time of the year, though, because so many people are trying to file their returns online. The accountant I spoke to told me that he has about 100 returns to populate.
The system was down and I ask that the Revenue keep track of that issue and ensure there is sufficient time for people to complete their returns. Those people are honestly trying to put in their returns but the system has not been available. I acknowledge that the extra time allocated, to 6 p.m. tomorrow, is sufficient in that more time has been given than has been lost. I ask, however, that the Revenue be understanding as people are trying to submit forms and not introduce the penalties just yet. If people are justifiably liable for not making their returns, so be it, and the rigours of the law should come down on them. When people are trying to make submissions in good faith, however, perhaps the Revenue could just keep an eye on this aspect of the system. The Revenue is an excellent organisation, but I was asked to raise this matter today on the Order of Business and I agreed.
I acknowledge what has been said regarding councillors and their remuneration. I say that in light of the Government's decision to undertake a review of remuneration. A senior counsel, Ms Sara Moorhead, was appointed on 21 June 2018 to undertake that report. Some 17 months later, there is no conclusion to the process. The objective set out when Ms Moorhead was appointed was that the report would be finalised by Christmas 2018. In the autumn of 2018, it was announced by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that there would be an interim report. That interim report was published just prior to Christmas 2018. There has, however, been no follow through since. I was told in a response I received in the last few days that the report is reaching an advanced stage. What does that mean?
Following that advanced stage, the report will be discussed by the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. After that, at some date in the future, the report will be brought before the Cabinet. It appears that this is just kicking the can down the road. It is disingenuous that this matter has not been resolved. Councillors are the practitioners of local democracy and this is report is clearly now just being kicked along until after the next general election.
All political parties need to come together and sort this out once and for all. The existing confidence and supply arrangement must address this issue. The remuneration cannot be allowed to dwindle any further. What will happen is that there will be an election and all the Deputies running for the Dáil will expect councillors to canvass for them and to do all the representational work on the ground, yet those same councillors are being treated with contempt by all of the Oireachtas. It is a disgrace because those are the people working hardest at the local level. This is something that should be addressed and I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on this issue, with the Minister present, to discuss where we are at with this issue once and for all.
Turning to another issue, the British Prime Minister at a press briefing yesterday announced a roll back on holding to account members of the British armed forces who were involved in-----
The Senator is in injury time.
-----actions in the North. I appreciate the leniency of the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
There is also only meant to be one item. I ask the Senator to make his point quickly.
During the Troubles in the North, soldiers committed crimes, including murders. The Stormont House Agreement is the framework to provide truth and reconciliation to those affected by the Troubles.
It would appear the British Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are undermining that agreement. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade be invited to the House for a debate on the legacy issues of the past. With the political vacuum in the North it is difficult to implement some of the requirements of the Stormont House Agreement but we should discuss those legacy issues in this House. I ask the Leader to try to facilitate a debate on that matter prior to Christmas.
I want to raise the issue of dual pricing. I welcome the Central Bank's decision to do a review on dual pricing within the insurance industry, particularly for motor and home insurance. I commend my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, on the work he has done in raising awareness of this issue. I am firmly of the belief, even though the Central Bank will not admit to this, that the reason it is doing this review now is because of the Deputy's work on exposing issues in the insurance industry. I refer to what the industry is doing regarding dual pricing and how it is using the information available to it. The data available can be data gathered by the insurance companies in the first instance, data gathered from store cards or data secured from social media. As an Oireachtas and Seanad, we have a job of work to do to make people aware that when they click something on social media or whatever it might be or sign up to a store card or anything else, they are giving away data and that those thousands upon thousands of items of data about themselves are being used against them. In the insurance industry it is being used against them to extract more money from them. If I and one of my colleagues were of the same risk in terms of insurance, we would find one is charged more than the other depending on the items of information that have been analysed. We must be aware these analytical tools are becoming increasingly more advanced all the time. I would like the Minister to come into the House for a full discussion on that issue. It is not only confined to the insurance industry. People are particularly vulnerable. They are being exploited left, right and centre because they are not being protected in respect of the data that is being used against them.
I wish to raise two matters.
I corrected another Member on this. That is allowed for the leaders of groups but only item can be raised by other Members. The Senator can get through the matters quickly.
The first matter concerns an acknowledgement and the second is an issue I wish to raise. I acknowledge what Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said about CareBright in Bruff. I went to school in Bruff many years ago. I know of the work of that care setting. Dementia is an issue that will be with us and it must be dealt with in a way that is caring in the community. Bruff is a special place. The activities in that care setting are very artistic.
I support the call for a wide-ranging debate on public broadcasting. Such a debate is long overdue and it should be constructive. I would like to see people such as Moya Doherty and Dee Forbes brought before us but that is probably not possible. I was elected, along with others, from the cultural and educational panel. In Limerick, Lyric FM is a particular issue in terms of regional broadcasting. There is a need for a wider discussion. Do we need public broadcasting? Yes, we do. I do not believe we would get the same quality of programmes provided by the public broadcaster in other areas of broadcasting. I ask for expediency to be shown in having such a debate because decisions are being made around RTÉ at a very quick pace. There is a need for a wide-ranging discussion not only about RTÉ but about public broadcasting generally.
Senators O'Donnell and Wilson are ad idem on that. Good on them.
Just on that.
Just on that, is it?
The Senator does not need to go further on that. I call Senator Ó Céidigh.
The issue Senator Kieran O'Donnell raises is the one I would also like to address. It is extremely important. I spent two years on the board of RTÉ from 2014 to 2016. On three occasions I asked the Leader to invite in the Minister to have a discussion on this issue.
These were in November 2017, January 2018 and October 2019. It is more urgent than ever. I strongly believe that a public broadcaster is critically important for our country. RTÉ provides an amazing service but, as the Senator has rightly said, we need to have a broad discussion about public broadcasting in general and a specific discussion about RTÉ. The only way we can do that is if the Minister comes in and we hold a proper debate on the issue. Members across the House are in support of that. I will not go into detail on the matter, but I am seriously concerned for many of the 2,000 employees who suddenly found out that they may not have jobs in a couple of months. It is a huge issue.
The other issue is the small and medium-sized businesses that provide production services and so on to RTÉ. Where do they stand? There has been a cut of something like 50% to the budget allocated to those businesses over the past six or seven years. That will probably now be totally wiped out. Again, I urge our esteemed Leader to ensure the Minister comes in for a proper debate on this vital service to our communities and to Ireland as a whole.
I thank the 16 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I will begin with the contribution of Senator Ardagh, who raised the issue of Spinraza. It is disappointing that there has been no progress in some cases. I know of one case in Cork in which the child affected did receive Spinraza just this week. There should, however, be no obfuscation or prolongation. The HSE has been in communication with Biogen. This was announced in June of this year. I will join the Senator to ensure that the drug is provided expeditiously in all cases. I am disappointed to hear that there has been a delay.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of rent increases and Rebuilding Ireland. As she knows quite well, in the first nine months of this year alone 20,000 new apartments and houses were constructed. In the third quarter of this year, construction was commenced on 7,560 houses and apartments. It is about extending the help-to-buy scheme, but also about ensuring people have certainty. That is why Government made changes with regard to rent. I am not sure that a rent freeze would do what the Senator wants it to. There is a worry about the effect it would have on supply, particularly for first-time renters, but I would be happy to invite the Minister to the House to debate the matter.
Senator Craughwell and many other Members, including Senators Black, Wilson and Ó Domhnaill, raised the issue of the Moorhead report. As Members of the House, regardless of whether we are going for re-election to the Seanad, election to the Dáil, or whatever else, we all recognise the importance of local government and of local authority members and the significant role those members play. We all understand and acknowledge that the workload has increased beyond what was comprehended when local government was reformed. There is a need for the Moorhead report to be published. There is also a need for Government, irrespective of who is in government, to tackle the issue once and for all. It will find no ambiguity among Members on this side of the House in that regard. I join all Members in saying that. I say it as somebody who has served on a local authority and who understands the importance of the role local councillors play.
Senator Craughwell referred to the military event being postponed. I am not aware of the details of the event he raised. All of us in this House recognise the value and importance of the military and the role that it plays. Today we remember and salute all of the members of the Defence Forces who died on active service during international duty abroad. We also remember those who served abroad. I am not familiar with the details of the issue the Senator raised regarding the Remembrance Day event. I attended the one in Cork last Sunday. It is important that we all respect and salute those who died and those who served.
Senators Gavan and Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of Lyric FM. If Senator Gavan wants to throw jibes at me, I invite him to do so.
I thank the Leader.
He and those in the Sinn Féin press office can put up videos of me laughing, as they have done in the past.
Through the Chair, please.
I will make my point. I will say it very clearly. Long before today-----
I do not want Senators addressing one another across the floor. They should speak through the Chair.
I am addressing the Senator through the Chair. Long before today, I worked in local radio in Cork, which was closed by RTÉ in 1999. I did not see too many of the people on the Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin benches protesting about the closure of RTÉ radio in Cork at that time.
Was it because Senator Buttimer was working there?
Maybe it was.
Buy that man a pint.
I ask Senator Gavan to go back and check my comments in this House on the responsibility RTÉ has to public service broadcasting in the regions, including Limerick. I know Cork will benefit from Lyric FM moving to the city but that should not be the way.
In Cork now.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell can now see what the Leader is about.
Lyric FM should remain in Limerick. I am all for regional broadcasting and recognise its importance. That includes Lyric FM being located in Limerick, RTÉ having a base in Cork city at its current headquarters on Father Mathew Street and RTÉ increasing its programming output from the regions. I have been clear on that.
Let us get the Minister in here.
If the Senator will let me finish-----
I certainly will.
I thank Senator Gavan.
The Senator is welcome.
That was my intent before Senator Gavan and others raised the matter today. To be fair, long before today, Senators Byrne and Kieran O'Donnell raised this matter on the Order of Business, as did many other Senators at the time the future of Lyric FM was in question.
They both spoke on the matter in the Commencement debate today.
Thankfully, the future of Lyric FM has been secured. The battle now will be to have the station remain in Limerick. I have no problem with that because I know many of the presenters who work from Limerick and travel to the city to work make a fine contribution.
Senator Ó Céidigh referred to requests he had made. The Minister will be in the House next Tuesday for a debate on the future of public service broadcasting. That is an important debate.
I join Senator Gavan in wishing Neil Young a happy 75th birthday. It is a rolling stone. We wish him a happy birthday and thank him for his contribution to the music industry.
We will agree on that.
Senator Norris should reflect on his contributions at times in the House, rather than berating me for mine. The Shane O'Farrell case was raised in the House last week. It is a tragic case on which there is no obfuscation by the Government. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, set up a scoping exercise under Judge Haughton. The Taoiseach stated in the Dáil earlier this afternoon that the report is due in the next couple of days. Following on from that, there will be a further evaluation of what is needed. The Minister responded to statements on the matter in the Dáil last week. All of us want justice for the O'Farrell family and we salute their tenacity, bravery and courage in their campaign. I want to make clear that they deserve answers and people need to be held account for the tragic death of Shane O'Farrell.
On Standing Order 41, we should allow the matter to proceed through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges where I am sure progress will be made.
Senator Norris also referred to the attack on Marc Power. We all condemn out of hand any attack on any member of the public. There has been an increase in the number of attacks on members of the LGBT community, not just in Dublin but also in Cork. Incidents of young men and women experiencing a lot of bullying and hostile behaviour on public transport and on the streets are to be condemned. Anything in the area of hate crime legislation should be looked at as a matter of urgency.
Senator McFadden made an eloquent contribution on the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which will take place on 25 November and a conference run by Safe Ireland in Athlone.
It is in Westport.
My apologies. Safe Ireland is headquartered in Athlone. All of us recognise the important work that is being done from a legislative and cross-party point of view and we also recognise the work being done by many organisations on domestic violence. All of us must respect women and their integrity.
All of us, whether we are a citizen or an elected representative, must be very careful about what we say and do in terms of the negative attitude that we bring to women and to people in general, as Senator McFadden very correctly said. Senator McFadden asked that Members attend the conference. I will be very happy to speak with her afterwards and to disseminate, to the Members of the House, the information on the conference.
The final point that Senator McFadden mentioned was the need for all of us, as citizens and elected politicians, to reflect on our own behaviour whether it is on social media or in general. The point she made about negative attitudes is one that we must combat and counter. I am happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to have a further debate on the matter.
The point that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made about trees is one that I am happy to have the Minister come back to discuss in terms of climate change. I am not an expert on the planting of trees but I have asked the Department to communicate with the Senator on the matter.
The points that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell made about dementia care in Bruff are ones that should be articulated beyond this Chamber because she is right that there is a need to take a look at the totality of the service. In particular, people who are heading towards the end of their lives, and also those who are living in the autumn of their lives, should be looked after and cared for in the completeness of what she spoke about earlier. Dementia is challenging for many different families in all parts of Ireland and it is a challenge for loved ones. This morning, I spoke to a gentleman whose wife attends Bessborough in Cork city two days a week. He said that it is two days when he does not worry about his wife because he knows she is well looked after and it is a break for him. These facilities give carers peace of mind. I agree with the Senator that we should plan for the future, which we have not been very good at doing.
I wish to point out to the Leader that the facility at Bruff is a live-in centre, not a day centre.
I did not say that. I know it is a day centre.
The Leader has made the facility sound even better in terms of its standard of care.
Yes, and I support everything that the Senator has said.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of the ESB and its closure of plants at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough. The proposed closures are very regrettable and a number of Ministers visited both sites yesterday. I am happy to facilitate a debate with the Minister on just transition and ensuring that the voices of local people are heard. The points the Senator made about providing measures to support the workers and the need for a whole-of-Government response were well made.
Senators Devine and Mulherin raised the issue of the decision about the windfarm in Derrybrien that was announced today by the European Court of Justice. I have not got an answer about the situation other than what I have read and heard on the news today and subsequent to that. As both Senators have said, there is an absolute need to address the issues. It beggars belief that an environmental impact statement was prepared. As both of them have said in different ways, there is now a need for the matter to be addressed. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House but, perhaps to get a more expeditious answer, the Senators could table Commencement matters on the topic.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of Revenue online service which was temporarily down this afternoon. I am told that for the first time ever Revenue will extend the pay and file deadline, and I hope that it will not discommode people too much.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the comments on the North in terms of the statement made by Prime Minister Johnson. It is a source of concern. For a long time we have had an agreed approach to legacy and reconciliation issues. As the Tánaiste said yesterday, there can be no deviation, amnesties or differing viewpoints or treatment. To re-echo his words, it is a concern. I am sure that he will take this matter up with his counterpart in the North in due course.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issues of dual pricing and store cards. Both points that she made are very pertinent. I do not have a store card.
I refuse to have one because I do not want people to know what I am buying or what I am doing. The same applies to insurance. However, we are leaving digital footprints everywhere with Laser cards and credit cards and in the move to a cashless society, which gives away more information. I would be happy to have the debate requested by the Senator because it is long overdue.
I hope Senator Gavan will accept my proposal for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House next week. If he does not, I will not accept his amendment. It is my intention to have the debate on RTÉ after the Order of Business and before the legislation is taken next week.
Senator Gavan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on a proposal to relocate Lyric FM out of Limerick be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?