The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2020 to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re reappointment of the Ombudsman, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No.1; No. 3, motion re reappointment of the Information Commissioner, to be taken without debate at the conclusion No. 2; No. 4, statements on public service broadcasting, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned at 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; and No. 5, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and adjourned at 9 p.m., if not previously concluded. For the information of Members, I am proposing that No. 4 be adjourned, rather than conclude, on the basis that many Senators have previously expressed an interest in contributing to the debate and because the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will be unable to be present for it. However, he may be able to come on another day to reply to the statements made, if they do not conclude this afternoon.
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Yesterday evening the body of a man was found in a burning car in Lucan. Subsequent reports suggest the man was shot before the car was set on fire.
It seems to be yet another gangland-related murder. It should serve as a reminder to every person in this city and country of how poor our Government is and how badly it deals with increasing crime levels and out-of-control criminals. How many times have I raised gun crime, knife crime, stabbings and shootings in the capital?
I know the Minister for Justice and Equality was busy yesterday not dealing with gangland crime or tackling these criminals but using his position to help a by-election candidate in Wexford. Does he know how many gangland-related murders have happened on his watch? Just like housing and health, the Government's on crime in Dublin and in the country is appallingly poor. It is failing people miserably when it comes to tackling law and order issues in the capital and on our borders. From anti-social behaviour and home burglaries to these murders, there seems to be no respect for the rule of law because the Government is letting these criminals get away with it. I call on the Minister to come to the House to address this issue and what he is doing about the increase in crime.
On Saturday, I attended a day of action with parents in Dublin 12 to support their efforts to progress their campaign for autism supports for their children. More than 80 children in the Dublin 12 area have not had formal in-school education. The Minister for Education and Skills admitted last week that there are serious discrepancies and inadequacies in autism spectrum disorder, ASD, supports for children, especially because of the lack of specialised units in mainstream schools. There is a notion that schools may have to be forced to provide supports under section 37 of the new Act. Last Saturday, we campaigned outside Scoil Colm on Armagh Road. This is a beautiful large school, which is now closed and lying empty. It would be perfect to retrofit for the use of the children of Dublin 12 who need a specialist school with ASD supports. I call on the Minister to come to the House to address exactly what he plans to do to help these children. We have let them down. It is devastating to listen to parents who are at home day in, day out with children, while their neighbour's children are going to school. Their children are not getting the formal education that we promised and that they deserve.
I wish all of my male colleagues in the Chamber a happy International Men's Day.
Before I call on the next speaker, I welcome former Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Michael Kitt, and his group to the House.
They are classmates of his from St. Jarlath's College.
They are very welcome.
I also welcome Michael and thank him for my seat in the Seanad. He was one of the people who got me my original nomination.
It is a pity the Senator did not keep his election promises.
We have again before this House a plethora of days allocated to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I understand that the sponsoring Minister threw his toys out of the cot last week and would not allow the appointment of judges. This is ridiculous. It is an affront to everything going on in this country that we are wasting our time in this Chamber pushing through a Bill that nobody in Fine Gael to whom I have spoken wants. Perhaps the Leader will reply that he is a dyed-in-the-wool confirmed supporter of the Bill.
Why does the Senator not talk about the important issues rather than wasting time on this?
Why does the Leader not stop interrupting?
I am about to move on to the important issues. Last Saturday, on RTÉ radio, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence spoke about the emergency air ambulance service, which will be stood down for one day a week for the next four months.
I heard him say, when pushed by the presenter, that he had become aware of the problem a couple of months ago. Either the Minister of State is not on top of his job or he lied because-----
Come on, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
Senator Craughwell should withdraw that remark.
The Senator cannot accuse anybody of lies. He should not name people.
I did not accuse him of lying.
The Senator should sit down. He is a disgrace.
Order, please. I will deal with it. Senator Craughwell did suggest it and I ask him to withdraw that.
I will say that he misled.
The Senator is usually observant of the rules of the House.
Okay. I will withdraw the word "lied" and say he "misled" the people of this country, one or the other.
That amounts to the same thing.
It is a legitimate political charge.
I took away the word "lied".
The Senator can make his point without being disorderly.
My point is very simple. For the joint Defence Forces and Department of Defence annual reports in 2015 and 2016, high-level groups were put together to report on the emergency air ambulance service. The Minister of State and the Department, and everybody and anybody under the sun, were aware of the fact there would be serious shortcomings down the line. The recommendations of those two groups were ignored completely and were totally and utterly rejected. The Minister of State then went on to say a number of pilots had been recommissioned into the Air Corps. The truth is that one is a lieutenant-colonel who will not fly because he has an administrative rank, and the second is a captain who, I am sure, is not going to be given the keys of a helicopter and told, "Good lad, off you go and fly helicopters for us". At the end of the day, I am afraid that is not good enough.
I could go through a plethora of issues. The Leader is smiling away. One of the places we might look is in his own backyard in Cork, where two ships costing millions of euro are tied up with no crew to sail them. The announcement yesterday, which was cynical to say the least, of the tax relief that has been provided for sailors was a 12th-hour announcement. The truth is that most seagoing people have had that allowance for years.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence, if possible, or the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe, be brought to this House today at 6:15 p.m. to deal with the issues raised on the "Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra" programme and a plethora of other issues in regard to the Defence Forces."
The amendment cannot be on a plethora of issues. It must be on one issue.
We will call them in on the Air Corps and the emergency air ambulance issue.
That is in order. I call Senator Paul Gavan.
Earlier, at noon, I met a good colleague of mine, Eddie Mullins from SIPTU. He was in Leinster House to hand in a letter to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I am referring to a topic that has been raised countless times in this Chamber, on all sides, which is the despicable treatment meted out to community employment, CE, supervisors in regard to their pensions and entitlements and rulings by the Labour Court that have been ignored by the Government. Looking back at the record, I see this was raised last February and last April, and I am going to raise it again today. I cannot begin to express the level of frustration and anger that union members and CE supervisors feel. Here is the level of contempt - that is the only word I can use - that the Government has for these people: it refuses to even engage in correspondence or to acknowledge getting letters requesting meetings. As I pointed out previously, and as other Members across the Chamber have pointed out, these are not well paid staff. These are staff who have given tremendous service across the country in all constituencies, and they have been completely ignored by the Government.
These recommendations go back to 2005 and 2008. The message that the Government sends to private sector employers is that it they are the subject of a Labour Court recommendation, they can ignore it because it is ignoring these recommendations. The letter refers to the high-level forum established by the previous Government under the Lansdowne Road agreement to deal with these matters. The agreement states that the high-level forum will be convened by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, involving the relevant Departments and agencies, and will meet on a quarterly basis. That is pretty straightforward, except it has not met since December 2017, almost two years ago.
That shows absolute contempt for the workers and the Lansdowne Road agreement. The Department does not even have the decency to reply to letters, which is the reason a number of people hand delivered them this morning to the office of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. I am seeking a debate on the matter.
The second issue I want to raise is the change to the retirement age from 2021, from when people will have to work until the age of 67 years. As the contracts of many will expire when they reach the age of 66 years, they will have to sign on for one year, resulting in a weekly cut in their income of €45. Is this the way we should be treating people who have worked for a lifetime in the State? It speaks to the constant theme of contempt of the Government for trade unions, working people, employment rights and so on. We need to debate this matter. It is not fair or proper that workers, on reaching the age of 66 years, should be forced to sign on for one year and take a cut of €45 per week in comparison to their pension payment. These changes have been proposed, but there has been no proper debate about them. I want to hear what Members on each side of the Chamber have to say aobut the proposed increase in the retirement age. Sinn Féin is opposed to this measure. We call on the Government to leave the retirement age at 66 years. Let us have a proper debate on to fund social services and pensions. I would welcome the opportunity to debates on both matters.
I want to highlight a couple of issues related to the Order of Business. The Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations are to be referred without debate to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. While I do not propose an amendment to the Order of Business, I ask the Leader to provide an opportunity at some point to debate policy on the horse and greyhound racing fund, a substantial and guaranteed fund of €55 million per annum. Approximately €80 million was allocated for the fund last year. It is a huge subsidy that, legally, is automatically built in every year. We need to debate if it is the best use of public funds. In previous debates following calls for support on key issues, including animal welfare and social welfare payments, we were asked to point to areas in which changes could be made. This is one area in which we may need to make changes. We need to consider if it is the best use of public resources and whether it should be reviewed and revised. While I am happy to support the proposal that the motion be referred to the joint committee without debate, I ask that when it is returned to the Seanad, or perhaps in advance of the taking of the Finance Bill 2019, we be given an opportunity to debate it.
I also ask the to Leader schedule a debate on the issue of child homelessness. The number of children experiencing homelessness now stands at 4,000. Last week two reports on the issue were published, namely, the report on family and child homelessness by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the report on the impact of homelessness on children by the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. The joint launching of the reports was unprecedented. This shows that the issue is emerging as a source of massive concern and that homelessness is affecting, in particular, the next generation and their opportunities. The model in place is creating intergenerational poverty and inequality. We need to address the issue. I would, therefore, welcome an opportunity to debate both reports and, in particular, child homelessness. The reports acknowledge the long-lasting detrimental effects of homelessness on children which extend into their adult lives. They also contain a number of recommendations. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to come to the House to debate these issues as a matter of urgency?
I have just returned from the 25th International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD, which was held in Nairobi. It was an incredible summit which brought together 9,000 activists working on women's health and women's rights across the world. The issues discussed include child marriage, female genital mutilation, maternal mortality, access to contraception and health clinics.
Was the issue of population mentioned?
Order, please. I ask the Senator to refrain from interrupting.
I was asking a question.
It was an incredibly rich and important discussion, for which there were three Senators from different roots in attendance. Will the Leader invite the Minister, Deputy Zappone, who represented the Government at the summit to come to the House to discuss the issues raised.
I ask for even an hour's discussion on the mandate for the decade of action in terms of moving forward and delivering the changes that effectively will save lives and increase well-being across the world. There are huge opportunities for Ireland to be a leader and to show solidarity across the world on this issue.
I join others in wishing everyone a happy International Men's Day. Many people, including some extraordinary male parliamentarians, are doing extraordinary, new and interesting work to change narratives. Last week at the conference I mentioned, I met some extraordinary young male parliamentarians from Trinidad, Croatia and Ghana who have championed issues of gender equality. Some incredible men are working to change how we think about gender and are looking at new and constructive models for masculinity.
It is refreshing to learn that female genital mutilation and many other subjects were discussed at the conference Senator Alice-Mary Higgins attended. It is extraordinary to me that population is very rarely mentioned at such things. It is a subject about which I have been talking for many years and I wish people would take it seriously.
Unlike Senator Craughwell, I am not greatly concerned by the torturous progress of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill through this House. I have rather enjoyed it. I think we have done quite a good job on the Bill and have provided the Government with an opportunity to produce no less than eight pages of its own amendments. The Seanad has played a very useful role there.
I raise a situation that has been brought to my attention. A gentleman contacted me who was an elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. After the passage of the marriage equality legislation, he married his partner. This was subsequently discovered and anonymous communications were sent to the Presbyterian Church, enclosing a copy of his marriage certificate, photographs from social media of him with his new family, enjoying himself on holiday and so on. A commission was then established. The identity of the accuser was never made clear and this gentleman has now been deposed from his position as an elder of the Presbyterian Church. It seems extraordinary to me. I wonder where marriage equality has got us on this one. I understand that churches are exempt from some of these operations but it is great pity. It is extraordinary to me and I wanted to register a protest on this matter.
I was not going to say anything because I already spoke about the Defence Forces during Commencement Matters. However, I feel the need to do so now because a previous speaker mentioned misleading comments. A misleading comment was made in this House last week when it was said that the Taoiseach had ordered the cancellation of a Remembrance Day event because he had to attend Gay Byrne's funeral. That is not true.
The Taoiseach and the Ministers attended many remembrance events around the country to commemorate the deaths of soldiers who fought in the First World War. The Defence Forces decided to cancel last week's event, without any consultation with the Taoiseach or his Department. The reason for that lack of consultation was that he had not been invited to the event.
That is even worse.
Senator Craughwell misled the House.
I am calm. Wait until the Senator hears my reply.
I will be delighted to apologise.
It is very important-----
The Senator will not accuse anyone of misleading the House.
I never said anything-----
Of course she can. What nonsense.
I want a clarification.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is misleading the House.
No, I am not.
You are. You are a very naughty boy..
I am trying to be fair to all the Senators-----
You are always fair but you misled-----
-----but I want them all to be respectful and to listen to one another in turn. They will each have a turn.
I ask the Leader to use his good office to request that the Senator divulge to the House where he got his information, because his information was incorrect.
He made a broad statement, expressing how disappointed he was and how low a move it was. Anybody who knows me knows how passionate I am about the Defence Forces. I, of all people, would be very disappointed if I thought-----
Will Senator McFadden acknowledge-----
Excuse me, I am speaking. If I thought that the Taoiseach did that on purpose, I would be very disappointed. I checked my facts and I think that every Senator in the House who stands up to speak should check their facts before they do.
Will Senator McFadden put on the record who she is saying cancelled it?
I ask that the Senator clarify for the House where he got his information. If he agrees with me that his information is incorrect, I ask that he withdraw it from the record.
He was outside. He met a man who met a man.
I wonder who he-----
Order, please. The Senator cannot be faulted in her defence of the Defence Forces. I call Senator Ned O'Sullivan.
I have two brief matters to raise. We are heading into the Christmas season. It is extraordinary how Christmas comes around earlier and earlier. One of these days, it will start before the Listowel races in September with the way it is going. I wish to remind people around the country about the importance of shopping locally at a time when so much money will be spent. I am not saying that I am opposed to online shopping; we live in the real world. People from the country like to have their big days out in Dublin, Cork or wherever they go. I was in the drapery trade for many years, however, and we all know that Christmas shopping is the lifeblood of the small or medium retailer. Such retailers need a good Christmas to get through the year. I would like to uphold the good service that people are accustomed to getting in their own towns from long-established firms such as mine used to be. People should shop locally and be patriotic. We need jobs in small towns. We are trying to regenerate rural Ireland. This is time for people to put their hands in their pockets and support local industry. They will get value and service.
On a more serious note, we had an important event in the Dáil last week when all the young people gathered and had a wonderful debate on climate change and so on. It was great to see young people having an interest in politics, which I have always encouraged. Now I am not so sure. I am not a child and I know that politics was never the boy scouts. I do not want to be too po-faced about it since we have to have the cut and thrust. I am personally becoming alarmed, however, at the standards that obtain at present in politics in Ireland. I do not point a finger at any single individual or party. It is quite the opposite but I think a race to the bottom has been going on in these Houses in recent months, as well as in comments in the media, from all parties and addressed against all parties. It is suddenly no longer about policy or the economy but seems to be about what one did or said, or what one can be caught doing. I dread what will happen between now and when the election is called in May or whenever, if we spend all the time trawling and digging and having our officers and backroom staff at that kind of game.
Politics is an honourable profession. We are all decent people. I have met very few people in politics who I do not like or admire. They are all doing a hard, thankless job. People think we are well-paid and so on but they do not look at the work rate that is involved. Why are we, as politicians, attacking each other on small personal issues which, though important in their own way, are relatively trivial in the overall scheme of things? I encourage Members, for the remainder of the by-elections and going into the next general election, to get on with the business of real politics and to stop going back to such mudslinging. Are we picking up the American example? No one knows what is news, fake news or bad news. I am not a holier than thou fellow. I have played a few good tricks and pulled a few good strokes in my time. There is no denying that and I would not be here if I did not.
The Senator is from Kerry, to boot.
I never attacked another politician in a personal way. I play my own ball. Let everyone play his or her own ball. We will be better and cleaner for it and we will be more respected for it.
I agree completely with Senator O'Sullivan. The trivialisation and denigration of politics that flows from personalised attacks on individuals is damaging and corrosive of the whole legislative process and the democratic process.
People may have made mistakes in the past and do stupid things; as far as I am concerned, they do stupid things every day on social media. I really think we should lift our eyes from the trivia and deal with the important issues.
I second Senator Craughwell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House to have a discussion with us on the State's attitude to the Palestinian settlements, especially in the light of what Secretary of State Pompeo has announced as America's position, namely, that contrary to all rubrics of international law, America is taking an exceptionalist and unilateral position that the settlements are not unlawful. Of course, America can do what it likes in some respects and can state what it does or does not consider to be unlawful. However, if there is to be complete demolition of the concept of international law rules, if the idea of occupation and settlement of territory seized in war and expulsion of the people in it is to be legitimised and regarded de facto with impunity as a state of affairs, that is a serious matter, on which Ireland should take a stand. The Tánaiste should come to the House to explain to us where Ireland really stands on it and whether it has the guts to state twe object strongly to this démarche by the Americans.
I want to add one footnote, without naming the writer. In the last week a letter writer to The Irish Times who is probably known to most Members of this House wrote to the effect that the rendering illegal of settlement goods produced in the Occupied Territories was of a piece with requiring Israelis, if they came to Ireland, to wear the Star of David. That is deeply offensive to those of us who supported the Bill, who strongly support the right of the state of Israel to exist and who agree with the many people in Israel who oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is deeply offensive for a former Member of the Houses to equate support for the Bill with a mentality that would ask Israelis to wear the Star of David in Ireland.
I welcome the €3 billion national broadband plan which has received EU state aid approval. It is the biggest investment in rural Ireland and every farm, home, business and school will be connected. It is due to start in eight weeks' time. Rural Ireland will not be left behind and the Government has made a significant gesture to help it to get on its feet. Some 90% of businesses and houses in the State will be covered by the plan. This is a great day for rural Ireland. People can complain all they want about the cost of the plan and so on, but it is an investment in from where I come and every business, school and farmhouse will be connected.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the air ambulance service. I remind people that in 2011 there was no air ambulance in the country. The emergency department in Roscommon was downgraded. Fine Gael in government, with the Labour Party, put an air ambulance service in place in Athlone. The Ministers involved were former Deputy Alan Shatter and Senator James Reilly. I was also involved. Hundreds of lives have been saved as a result. As I said, there was no air ambulance in the country, except for the Irish Coast Guard helicopters. Yes, there are issues that need to be addressed. Use of the Irish Coast Guard is one option and the air ambulance service in Cork another, but the position is not ideal.
We need to work together. The air ambulance has saved hundreds of lives. I know of at least 50 people in my area whose lives have been saved. If we got statements from each one of them, each one would tell the Government and myself how important it is. We all know there is an issue regarding the retention of pilots and that there are other issues. I believe this Government will address them.
Senator Craughwell is a good friend. We both wear the poppy and we remember. On this occasion, I think he should withdraw what he said about the Taoiseach because we all get things wrong and I understand what was said was probably said without any malice.
I assure Senator Feighan I will recheck my facts.
I thank Senator Craughwell.
I call Senator Máire Devine.
I want to address the issue of our youth and the massive and insupportable increase in their anxiety levels. I am not sure what the reason is but the My World 2 survey, carried out by UCD in conjunction with Jigsaw, tried to build up a picture of our youth and their mental health and well-being. It recently conducted this survey of almost 20,000 young people between 12 and 25 years of age. Under 25 years of age is the peak time for the onset of mental health issues. This was the largest survey of its kind, and the number of people suffering from anxiety has doubled since the last survey in 2012. Some 22% report severe and very severe anxiety in the 12 to 19 age bracket, and 26% report the same in the 18 to 25 age bracket, with females most likely to suffer. All described being overwhelmed with fear and panic.
I would like the Minister of State to address two specific issues regarding services for our young people. There is a by-election in Wexford and the paucity of mental health services there is proving to be a key issue. They have had no child psychiatrists and no child psychologists for the past 18 months except on a Saturday, for which one needs to make an appointment, because all the other staff have resigned. The day services in Linn Dara closed last summer. I was promised, and I have a letter to prove it, that it would be opened in September or in October at the latest but lo and behold, there is not a peep or a word about it. All those places are lost to our young children. I would be grateful if the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, could come into the House to answer some questions.
I call Senator Pippa Hackett.
I would like to express my utter dismay and disappointment with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on its recent decision to reject more than three quarters of applications to the organic farming scheme, which opened last November for just one month. The scheme itself had been shut since 2015. Some 225 farmers and growers applied for the scheme last November. They did not take this decision lightly. They thought long and hard about it. They did the prerequisite organic courses, paid organic certification membership fees and many hired advisers to do this.
Almost a year through the two-year conversion process, having spent much money and time on this conversion, whether it was buying organic seed or converting farm buildings, 175 of them found out in the last week or so that their applications had been unsuccessful. This is totally unacceptable. I believe only one out of 50 successful applications was actually in horticulture.
I do not know what sort of message this sends out. We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity emergency. We have rising emissions from the agriculture sector and farmers are lining up and crying out for nature-friendly opportunities across all farming enterprises. This Government has effectively starved the organic sector of funding, so much so that Ireland wallows at the bottom of the European Union table for land being farmed organically, at around 2%, whereas the European Union average is closer to 7% and more progressive countries are up at around 20%.
Organic farming is well known for its benefits for biodiversity, water quality and so forth. It lowers emissions and it also increases farm income. What is not to like about it?
The Government likes to talk the talk, but its actions speak louder than words. The organic sector deserves better and Irish consumers deserve better. We import vast quantities of organic produce, much of which could be produced here thereby supporting Irish farmers and creating Irish jobs. However, the Government would rather use our hard-earned taxpayers' money to support big agribusiness at the expense of many of our farming families and our environment.
I call on the Leader to urge the Minister, Deputy Creed, and the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to direct their Department to review and reassess these applications and do what they can to facilitate these progressive farmers who are looking to improve their farms and farm incomes while at the same time benefiting our challenged and damaged environment.
I join other Senators in raising the issue of the air ambulance service. As we are all aware, it is a very important service and saves many lives. Earlier this afternoon, Senator McFadden raised this directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. It is very disappointing that a community rapid-response charity helicopter would be required to fill the gap of what should be a fundamental service provided by the State. Obviously, it is positive that the second helicopter will be based in Roscommon. However, at a wider scale, it is a fundamental service which has saved many lives and has the potential to save many more. It should be fully provided by the State.
As the Minister of State said this afternoon, there are difficulties with staffing. He referred to the recommissioning of former Air Corps pilots, the reintroduction of the service commitment scheme for pilots and the training of junior pilots. This crucial service should be provided by the State.
The road ambulance service has particular challenges and black spots. While there have been some positive developments with the Loughglynn ambulance base operating on a five-days-a-week and two-nights-a-week basis, we were told it would operate on a 24-hour basis for seven days per week, but that has not happened. We need to ensure we support people to get to a centre of excellence or hospital as needs be as quickly as possible. We need to ensure our road ambulance service functions fully. I specifically mention Loughglynn as an example where we have not got it on a 24-hour basis for seven days per week.
We have difficulties now with the air ambulance service. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, reiterated and emphasised to Senator McFadden this afternoon that it will continue to be based in Athlone, but there are issues with the staffing of that service. We also have issues with our road ambulance service. We certainly need a debate in the House because both of those services are fundamental to saving people's lives and reducing disability.
Did the Senator say Lough Leane?
Lough Leane is in Killarney.
The previous speaker made a very important point about the centres of excellence. I had many disagreements over the policies Mary Harney implemented, but the development of certain centres of excellence in cancer treatment has saved many thousands of lives. However, we need the services to ensure people can get to those centres of excellence quickly, safely and on time to get a good outcome. We should ensure that for all our citizens.
I wish to speak about funding of local government. It has again become a serious issue for the capital city. Dublin City Council failed to pass a budget last night.
One of the many problems in regard to the funding of local government is the commitment that was given that the transfer to Irish Water would be revenue neutral, and we now find it is not. This happens over and over again in regard to local authorities, especially within the Dublin area. I sometimes wonder what Fine Gael has against Dublin or what Dublin has done to Fine Gael to be treated in such a manner. We see the same thing in regard to Dún Laoghaire Harbour, where there was a commitment that it would not be a drag on the local authority. We now see it is a drag, with the loss of services which other Senators have raised in regard to the cost of support for the harbour.
There is a big, crying issue in regard to the funding of local authorities. It does not matter what political party anyone comes from but, at this time of the year, as the councils are passing their budgets, we see clearly the difficulties and, in many ways, the contradictions. For example, councillors vote for a decrease in the property tax and are prepared to vote for an increase in social housing rents.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business calling on the Minister to attend today to discuss in detail the funding of local government. Local government is the bedrock of Irish democracy and it is the closest interface with the citizens. It is not right that councillors should be put in this position due to decisions that are made by the Government. They were given a clear commitment that the transfer of Irish Water would be revenue neutral but it is not. I formally move that amendment.
On a somewhat related matter, the issue of the Moorhead report was raised last week. To be fair, right across this House, among Senators on all sides, there is a desire to have the report published so we can have a discussion on what is in it. I read the Leader's response last week and he said it should be published, and rightly so. We need the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to come to the House. I was talking to Councillor Joe Malone from Kilkenny, who is in the Visitors Gallery and is very welcome. The Minister of State, who is from Councillor Malone's constituency, has responsibility for local government. There is anxiety throughout the country to get this report published, for good or for bad, whatever is in it. I do not think it is going to contain what most people want, and I say this as somebody who was lucky to be on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for 12 and a half years. I identify with the issues Senator Humphreys and other Senators have raised in regard to local government. I could talk about the property tax all day but I will not as I will do that on another day.
On the Moorhead report, people need to appreciate that councillors in 2008, 2009 and 2010 took hits. They took a class of PRSI they had never paid before, a 4% super-tax that has been somewhat dealt with in terms of the class S measure, a USC charge of 5.5% and a cut of 25% in their travel and subsistence. This was all taken at the time and most of it was not really reinstated in any meaningful way. Many of us have been councillors in the past and we know councillors work extremely hard, with long hours on top of trying to have family balance, work-life balance, hold down a career and so on. A huge amount of time is put in. Let us have a look at this report. It was promised 21 months ago and there was an interim report last Christmas. Although I will not put down an amendment to the Order of Business without talking to the Leader, we need the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, or the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the House to tell us what is holding it up and when it is going to be published. The Leader is nodding and I thank him for that. Let us get a date for when it will be published or a reason it cannot be published.
I want to comment on the contribution of Senator Ned O'Sullivan. As a sportsman, I reiterate that it is more important to play the ball rather than the man. I have been the subject of a personal attack from one of the Senator's colleagues here, so I would concur with the fact we need to be more proactive on how we debate. We need to learn how to debate properly, rather than making it personalised. The unfortunate thing is that if people decide to make personal attacks on other people, within the Seanad or outside it, they must suffer the consequences as a result.
Those who do so invite personal attacks upon themselves.
I am a former teacher. I did my junior certificate a long time ago. I think Peig Sayers was a young woman when I was doing the leaving certificate. The junior certificate-----
It was the intermediate certificate back then.
There was the group certificate before that.
Even fellows like me studied Peig.
I have before me a sample junior certificate higher level Irish examination paper. I met a group of Irish teachers this morning. Some of the language in the questions is beyond the scope of the young children who will sit the Irish higher level paper. I tested the paper on a couple of capable students who will do their junior certificate next June.
The Senator should do it himself and get someone to check it.
Sadly, my Irish is very limited, partly because of the education system in place at the time which emphasised rote learning rather than learning oral Irish. The sad reflection of where we are going with the changes in the junior certificate-----
The Senator might be better to raise this as a Commencement matter.
The sad thing about the new junior certificate Irish syllabus is that the written paper will account for 90% of a student's overall mark, with 10% being accounted for by continuous assessment. Previously, schools were given an option of 40% of the marks being allocated to an oral exam. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is very enthusiastic about oral exams because he made a significant effort to learn oral Irish when he became Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I ask the Leader to ask him to come before the House to discuss this matter. If we are to encourage Irish as an oral language, we should do so in schools. If we do not, it will be back to prose and rote learning. There is a question in the sample exam paper regarding a film entitled "A Star is Born". A 14-year-old junior certificate student would not have legally been allowed to see the film because it is restricted to viewers over the age of 15.
Is the Senator referring to the new one or the old one?
The new one.
It does not matter. We need to get back to where we ought to be, namely, teaching oral rather than written Irish. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister come before the House to see if he can sort out that problem. He did very well in respect of the problem with history. This is another little task we have for him.
I wish to second Senator Humphrey's proposal for the Minister to come to the House regarding local government finances. There is a crisis in that regard. The issues in Dublin City Council became clear last night. It has a shortfall of €80 million. Several councillors on Waterford City and County Council contacted me today regarding the cost-neutral or benefit-neutral situation in respect of the assets of Irish Water and its rates liabilities. They were of the understanding that the Government would sort this out but it has not been resolved. This is a recurring theme across the country. I have been specifically asked by Waterford councillors who contacted my office to raise the matter with the Leader.
On an issue that is closer to home for the Leader, I spoke to four councillors who moved from Cork County Council to Cork City Council regarding their remuneration or, shall we say, their gratuity package and who is liable to pay for it. I spoke to officials in the Department to seek clarification. The issue of who is liable to pay these gratuities is of concern to the Department and the Minister. The four councillors, three of whom are aged over 50, are concerned about their gratuity. Two of them are Fine Gael councillors, one is a Fianna Fáil councillor and one is an Independent. This issue needs to be considered. I am not necessarily asking the Leader to bring the Minister to the House to discuss it. Does the Leader wish to say something?
I was not talking to the Senator. I did not say anything to him.
The Leader keeps commenting and I do not know what he is saying.
I was taking notes.
I am asking the Leader, given that his colleagues are listening in and that five or ten minutes before I came in here I said I would raise it with him-----
I have the text messages.
I ask him to use his influence, as I will use mine, with the Department and the Minister to deal with this. I concur with what other Senators, including Senator Horkan, said. It is time we addressed the issue of proper remuneration, fair pay and conditions and allowances for our city and county councillors.
It has gone on for too long. There have been too many promises. We are told there is a report sitting somewhere. No one seems to know where. We have a commitment that the Minister of State with responsibility for local government will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government next week to address the issue. I hope he will come here beforehand. The elected city and county councillors vote for us. We all made commitments. It is time we delivered on those commitments to these representatives who are practitioners of local democracy-----
We started this in 2015.
I was dismayed at the announcement yesterday that the US Administration, in a significant policy shift, no longer views the Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land as illegal. The US is demonstrating yet again that it is determined to rip up decades of carefully developed international law and human rights protections. It is frightening, not because of some obscure legal argument but because it paves the way for formal annexation of the West Bank and for immense suffering on the ground. The Geneva Convention is absolutely clear that transferring civilians to occupied territory seized during war is illegal. It is a war crime, under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and there is overwhelming international legal consensus on this point. It has been reaffirmed time and again by the UN, the EU, the International Court of Justice and the Government. In Europe, we need to recognise that we are at a crossroads. If we maintain the policy of the past decades, which is essentially to criticise the Israeli occupation but support it financially, we will facilitate annexation. We have been copying and pasting the same statement of concern for years. If we carry on down this path, we will drive past the last exit on the road to annexation and the possibility of an independent Palestinian state will be gone. We will not be able to say we did not see it coming. Last year, I tabled the Occupied Territories Bill so that we could take a meaningful, peaceful, concrete step against this process and the settlements. We famously stood up and offered leadership on apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and I call on the Government to show some bravery and do the same in this regard. We can pass this Bill tomorrow with its support. I call on the Government to drop the pretence of legal opposition to the Bill and listen to the UN human rights rapporteur, Michael Lynk, who just last month urged the international community to end its financial support for the illegal settlements and ban the import of settlement goods. I urge the Government to read the letter published in The Guardian this week from a group of eminent Israeli citizens, including former ambassadors, attorneys general, speakers of the parliament and recipients of the Israel Prize. They say:
We believe that the occupation is morally corrosive, strategically shortsighted, and thoroughly detrimental to peace. The international community has taken insufficient action in addressing this reality. Europe continues to support the occupation financially by allowing trade with Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. . . .
As Israelis who care about the future of our country, we ask the European Union to ban the import of settlement goods in order to support a just future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
This Government needs to realise that the status quo has not worked and it will only lead to annexation. It has a choice to make; it can take meaningful action or it can let the Pompeos of this world have their way.
In the spirit of Senator Black's remarks, this afternoon we gathered in the Mansion House to bid farewell to the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, H. E. Ahmad Abdelrazek. He is retiring after six years of service in Ireland and 46 years' service to Palestine's diplomatic efforts around the world. This is a most important week for the Palestinian people, given the further devastation and injustice inflicted on them, not only by the remarks of the US Administration but by further violence from Israel. It is now crucially important that we pass the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill through the Oireachtas. Ireland must also use its place in the EU to stand up for justice and international law.
The Finucane family have campaigned for truth and justice regarding the murder of their husband and father, Pat, for 30 years. They have gained international renown for their dignity and grace in the face of constant obstacles and barriers. They have support from across the political spectrum in these Houses, as well as the support of the Government in securing an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane. His son, John Finucane, is our first citizen in Belfast and he has been a fantastic example of the Good Friday Agreement generation. Despite being a victim of the conflict himself, he has shone as a beacon for a new Belfast and a new society that is peaceful, cohesive, and respectful. I do not expect colleagues to involve themselves in party political cheerleading for John or for our party, but it would be remiss of us not to stand firmly against the toxic, sectarian and vile campaign being led against him, not only in the constituency of North Belfast where he is seeking election, but throughout the Six Counties. As people who value the democratic and electoral process, and who think it a good thing that people put their names forward for election to represent the people, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that a clear message goes out from both these Houses and the Government that we continue to stand in solidarity with John and his family. We must stand with them and face down anyone who seeks to attack and retraumatise the Finucane family or broader victims across our society in the North, regardless of from where it is coming or at whom it is directed. It is incumbent on us to ensure that a clear message goes out of solidarity and support for John, his family, and by extension, the democratic and electoral process.
I would like to comment on a briefing held in the audiovisual room about the community sponsorship Ireland refugee programme. I encourage all Members to reach out to their various communities, including refugees, direct provision centres, and asylum seekers. This programme aims to engage, protect, empower and create a more inclusive community, and ensure that our communities can benefit from people who come here seeking our assistance, support and sanctuary. Such people will ultimately enhance, enrich, empower and create a better Ireland, community and people. As time goes on, our young people will, hopefully, benefit from the wisdom and experiences of the new Irish who come here and who are welcomed by the vast majority of people.
We will have a debate about RTÉ later, which is welcome as it has a significant role to play in public service broadcasting in this country. There are many strands to RTÉ such as Raidió na Gaeltachta, TG4, and Lyric FM. It was great to meet staff from Lyric FM, who made the station great in Limerick, in the audiovisual room earlier.
They are aware that this debate is taking place. There has to be a recalibration of the mindset within RTÉ about the importance of the arts and culture to this country. There are thousands of citizens, unwittingly or for whatever reason, who have not got a television licence. People nowadays move houses many times and end up finding themselves without a television licence. There should be some sort of an incentive for people to actually get into the system such as a discount for people taking out a television licence for the first time. This would involve many thousands of people and would generate a significant amount of money for RTÉ. It would bring people into the television licence realm until such time as we see proper and decent reform of funding of public service broadcasting.
As the Senator reminded us, there will be statements on the matter later.
There will be but sometimes we need to give a prelude to these debates.
I have given the Senator a little of bit of latitude already but he is well in injury time.
I am trying to set the agenda ahead of the debate.
Point taken. I call Senator Mullen.
I echo what Senator Conway said about Community Sponsorship Ireland. This is a significant point in the context of the important debates we must continue to have about migration. This particular initiative goes back to 2015 when the Government established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. It is important we get local communities engaging with refugees, welcoming them into communities in practical ways such as receiving them when they first come to the country and assisting them with all that is necessary in connection with settling down and thriving in Ireland. I commend the work of that programme and urge communities to get involved.
The closure of the Cuisle holiday centre in Donamon, County Roscommon, has been a decision of the Irish Wheelchair Association which has invoked a passionate and critical response from service users and their families. My colleague, Senator Hopkins, has raised this issue eloquently, as have others. The consensus among many observers, including the Taoiseach, is that this decision is regrettable. Indeed, the Taoiseach conceded the decision will have a negative impact on the economy in the region, as well as everything else, because 48 jobs will be lost at the centre.
I welcome and commend the Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, Deputy Harty, for inviting the Irish Wheelchair Association to a meeting to give a comprehensive account of its actions in this matter. I hope to participate in that meeting. There appears to have been no genuine or meaningful engagement with service users prior to the shock announcement of the centre’s closure. Many of those who protested outside the gates of Leinster House last week felt utterly betrayed by the Irish Wheelchair Association. They also felt shut out of the decision-making process by an organisation which supposedly has been representing their concerns.
Only last July, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, assured the other House that the provision of respite services, to enhance cost efficiency and continuous quality improvement, including those at Cuisle, would continue to be provided and that all this would be done in consultation with all the families of people with disabilities. Here we are, however, four months later and the service at Cuisle is being dismantled against fierce local and national opposition. The Irish Wheelchair Association claims its rationale is consistent with the policy trajectory in the HSE document, Time to Move on from Congregated Settings, A Strategy for Community Inclusion. Who are the real beneficiaries, however? What has happened under the heading of consolidating a healthcare service is affecting inappropriately what is in fact a holiday facility for people. It seems to have been done in a top-down way without consultation. We need to continue to keep the pressure on about this issue. We should certainly take an interest in what will happen at the health committee.
I hope it will continue to be referred to in this House and we will not have seen an end of this matter.
Last, but certainly not least, I call Senator Wilson.
Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
I welcome Councillor Joe Malone from Kilkenny city to the Gallery.
He has already been mentioned. I would also like to join in welcoming the councillor.
In that regard, I support what my colleague-----
I have macular oedema, as Members know, and did not spot the man.
In welcoming Councillor Malone to the Public Gallery, I wish to endorse what Senators Horkan and Boyhan and others have said about the pay and conditions of councillors. I talk to colleagues on all sides of this House, who are in total agreement that our councillors should be paid properly for the work they do on our behalf. They are at the coalface of our democracy. I know the Leader is totally approachable with regard to this matter but I would impress upon him the need for the Moorhead report to be published as a matter of urgency.
I endorse what Senator Craughwell said about helicopter and emergency services provided by the Defence Forces and the unfortunate difficulties in which they find themselves. I know Senator McFadden agrees that there needs to be an urgent review of the pay and conditions of the Defence Forces. The reality is that morale is at an all-time low. While I acknowledge that the Government is attempting to do something to rectify the situation, unfortunately, it is not enough. While I support Senator Craughwell's call for the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to come to the House, the situation is urgent enough to require the attendance of the Taoiseach, who is the Minister for Defence. I am aware that unlike a lot of previous taoisigh, he has attended this House on two occasions, which I welcome. The last time the Taoiseach was here was April 2019 but it is important that he comes to the House before the end of the year to address both the difficulties within our Defence Forces and the difficulties relating to topics like health, social welfare, employment and councillors' pay and conditions, issues about which a number of other Senators have concerns. Let us hear at first hand what he has to say about all these matters. I ask Senator Craughwell to allow the Leader some time to seek the attendance of the Taoiseach in this House to address those issues, primarily the Defence Forces. He is the Minister for Defence and has ultimate responsibility for that portfolio and I would like to see him in attendance in this House before the end of the year.
I thank the 21 Members of the House for their contribution to the Order of Business today. I never thought the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill would, again, create such consternation and fuss today. Pantomime season is approaching.
Oh no, it isn't
Oh yes, it is here.
As always in politics, look behind you.
Absolutely. There are roles for the villain, the dame, the queen and the king - you name it.
What about this side of the House?
There are lots of jokers here too.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the tragic event in Lucan where the body of a man was discovered in the passenger seat of a car. I do not have the full information regarding the tragic events that took place in Lucan last night but An Garda Síochána is conducting a full investigation. I assure Senator Ardagh that the Government is committed to resourcing An Garda Síochána to tackle any form of criminality and crime. I remind her that this is why €1.76 billion was allocated to the Garda Vote, with an increase to €1.82 billion in 2020. This is why the Government increased capital investment in An Garda Síochána to the tune of €92 million and why we reopened the Garda college in Templemore and are hiring more gardaí. That is why, with Commissioner Drew Harris, we have produced the plan, A Policing Service for the Future.
Notwithstanding the challenges facing An Garda Síochána, the Government has introduced three pieces of legislation, including proceeds of crime and criminal justice legislation, and has supported the armed support unit and a special Garda crime task force. It is important we get the facts for Senator Ardagh. On the issue of the parents in Dublin 12, I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House on the matter.
Senators Craughwell, Feighan, McFadden, Hopkins and Wilson referred to the Defence Forces in a myriad of ways, in particular to the emergency aeromedical service, EAS, which was raised by Senator McFadden as a Commencement matter today. The Minister of State in his reply assured the House, and in particular Senator McFadden, that the EAS, operated by the Air Corps, will continue to operate out of Custume Barracks in Athlone. I remind Senator Craughwell that this service was not in place before Fine Gael came into government in 2011. Let me make it quite clear to Senator Craughwell that rather than playing politics with a particular situation, he would be well-served to listen to the wise counsel of Senator Wilson.
I advise the Leader not to go down that route, as it would be a dangerous one.
I will be very happy to have a debate with Senator Craughwell at any time and in any place. I will do so in this House any day he wants.
It is very dangerous.
The Leader is supposed to speak through the Chair and not directly to me.
Rather than having a debate tonight, when it is clear there is a certain motivation behind the amendment to Order of Business and when it appears the Senator has not given any notice, I ask him to read the Minister of State's response to Senator McFadden's Commencement matter. She submitted this Commencement matter because she was so concerned about it.
I got this amendment in very quickly.
The safety, and I am quoting-----
I got my Commencement matter in before 10 a.m. yesterday.
Yes, that is correct. If Senator Craughwell knew the rules, he would know it was in by yesterday morning. I draw the attention of Members to the response of the Minister of State. He spoke about the safety of serving personnel, HSE staff and patients and said the shared number one priority and our whole focus is on returning the EAS to full capacity. The Minister of State said also that a number of measures were being pursued, including the reintroduction of the service commitment scheme for pilots, the recommissioning of former Air Corps pilots and the training of junior pilots during this period.
Senator Craughwell can huff and puff all he wants.
He brought back two pilots, one a lieutenant colonel who will not fly, and one captain who is not qualified.
Please speak through the Chair. Calm down, please.
A calm debate is required and I am prepared to offer Senator Craughwell a debate with the Minister of State at 3 p.m. on Thursday, when we have concluded our business on that day. The Minister of State will be available to come to the House to deal with this matter. If that is not suitable to the Senator, I am prepared to sit down with the Senator afterwards to work out a day that is suitable to him, if Thursday does not suit. We can have a debate on the Defence Forces issue, which Senator Wilson spoke about as well.
Senator Gavan raised the important issue of community employment scheme supervisors. It is a very contentious issue that has been ongoing for over a decade and is the subject of a Labour Court recommendation. It is important to point out again that the employees are those of private organisations or companies, albeit in the community and voluntary sector that receives State fund. Furthermore, the Minister for Finance has a number of occasions answered parliamentary questions in the Lower House on the matter and on the cost of between €188 million to €347 million. There no agreement on this payment. I will be happy for the Minister come to the House again to debate the matter. There might be a more expeditious approach for Senator Gavan. I appreciate where the Senator is coming from. Community employment schemes and supervisors play a huge role in our community and voluntary sector and all our communities benefit from their input, involvement and engagement. I will be happy to have a debate on the retirement age as well.
Senator Higgins referred to a number of issues. The motion regarding the horse and greyhound racing fund is always taken without debate, no matter what Government is in situ. It is debated at the committee. However, I take the Senator's point and we will have a debate on the wider issues.
We have had the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in the House previously to debate the issue of homelessness and he will come again in the coming weeks.
Senator Higgins also spoke about the report on the conference held in Nairobi. I will be happy to have a debate on it.
I am not sure what Senator Norris' request is. The article in the newspaper regarding a minister in the Presbyterian Church is a source of disappointment. I have read the article and think I heard a gentleman address it on a radio station.
It would have been addressed.
It was disappointing to hear about the position taken by the Presbyterian Church. We see so many churchmen, including Bishop Colton in Cork, who are leaders when it comes to inclusivity and equality and welcoming diversity. For the church to take that view is disappointing.
Senators O'Sullivan and McDowell raised the issue of standards in politics. We all have an obligation and a duty when it comes to how we carry ourselves and understanding the import of our remarks. Speaking as somebody who enjoys the cut and thrust of politics, it is important that we understand this. The remarks of Senator O'Sullivan are pertinent in that regard. Equally, as politicians, we have an obligation to understand we have very broad duties when it comes to how we engage with the people and the media, irrespective of whether we give false briefings to the media or false impressions on certain matters. As Senator O'Sullivan said, politics is a noble profession. All of us in this Chamber serve with one intent - to do good to make our society and the country better. At least, I hope that is what we are all trying to achieve. The Senator makes an important remark, that people who engage should understand the ramifications of what they do. I agree with him in his point that trawling through what has been said by all Members of both Houses, those in parties and none, does not serve the body politic well. I hope to come back to this issue at a later time.
Senators McDowell and Black referred to the position taken by the United States as announced by Secretary of State Pompeo and the Tánaiste's remarks. The Tánaiste has made it clear that we stand with the European Union on the matter and that there has been no change in the Irish position. We all stand with the European Union in its opposition to what Secretary of State Pompeo and President Trump are doing.
The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill is stuck.
I will have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss the matter. The Senators might table a Commencement matter to receive a more expiditious reply on the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill. The Minister is away this week. We have engaged with him on the matter and others related to foreign affairs. I will be happy to have him come to the House, but the Senators might table a Commencement matter. I will work with them to make sure it happens as a matter of urgency.
Is the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill before the Dáil?
It is a matter for the Dáil.
I think Senator McDowell wants to receive an update on the Government's position in the Dáil.
It is a matter for the Dáil to order its own business, as Senator McDowell well understands, being a former Member, Minister and Attorney General.
I fully understand that is the case, but I am concerned about the Government's attitude.
The Government's attitude on the matter is quite clear.
Not to the Bill.
Perhaps the Senator intends to contribute to the debate in the Lower House.
The Senator may well be right.
He will have two bites at the cherry.
Senator Devine raised the important issue of the findings of the mental health survey which show that there has been an increase in the rates of depression and anxiety experienced and expressed by young people. It is a source of concern. It is significant that 76% of respondents to the survey felt they had a significant adult with whom they could talk.
To be fair to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, we have seen a huge change in the emphasis and accentuation on A Vision for Change in terms of not only funding but the way in which we approach mental health. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the coming weeks.
Senator Hackett raised the issue of the rejection of applications under the organic farming scheme. I do not have information on the matter to hand. Again, a Commencement matter might be a more expeditious way of getting a response but I am happy to arrange for a debate on the matter raised by the Senator in due course.
Senator Hopkins also raised the issue of the Loughglynn ambulance service. Again, I do not have information on that matter to hand but I acknowledge it is a matter of concern to Senator Hopkins. A Commencement matter might be a more expeditious way of getting a response.
Senator Humphreys raised the matter of local government. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, are not available today but I would be happy to ask them to come to the House next Tuesday for a debate on local government.
Senators Horkan, Boyhan and Wilson raised the issue of the Moorhead report. There is an obligation on Government to publish that report. All of us accept the importance of local government and the enormous contribution that our elected local government members play in the functioning of local government, the growth in their workload and the increased pressure on all members of local government. There will be no shying away from that on this side of the House. I have asked the Minister to set aside a date in his diary for a debate. I have not yet had a response in regard to the publication of the Moorhead report. It is an important debate that we need to have.
Senator Boyhan raised the specific issue of members of Cork County Council who now are members of Cork City Council. The matter he raised is an important one but it is not one that I believe should be raised on the floor of this Chamber. I am aware of the situation, as Senator Boyhan will know. I hope the Senator will agree with me that there is an obligation on Cork County Council to respond to the members not named by the Senator but referred to in terms of the number of people involved. There is an impasse between the Department and Cork County Council. It is unacceptable that elected members are caught up in this impasse and are being torn between two particular arms of local government, be that the Department or County Hall. I call on the Minister to direct Cork County Council to engage. The impasse is unacceptable. Many of the members in question have given decades of service to their constituents and local government and they have enhanced local government in the city and county of Cork.
Senator Lawlor made reference to the issue of the Irish language in the junior certificate curriculum. The trial sample paper published was agreed by a variety of bodies. We have seen a more organic view being taken of Irish in terms of its usage in the oral part of the examination and class-based assessment. Earlier, we were joking about Peig Sayers. We have moved a long way from the days of Peig to a more grounded version of Irish being taught, where the emphasis is on comhrá - conversation - and the spoken language. It is important that we get this right. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the matter.
Poor old Peig Sayers gets a very bad rap.
I enjoyed reading Peig. I am probably in a minority of a dozen in that regard.
She had her good side.
We all accept many things have changed since the days of Peig. The Leader, without interruption, please.
She knew now what she knew then-----
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the Finucane inquiry. We all agree on the need for justice for the Finucane family in regard to the death of Pat. The Senator also spoke about the electoral contest in the North of our country. Similar to the remarks expressed by Senator O'Sullivan around the body politic, those who engage in electioneering, regardless of their colour or hue, should remember that what we say and do and how we carry on during election campaigns matters.
Senator Conway made reference to the issue of Community Sponsorship Ireland supporting refugees in our country. It was a very important briefing although, alas, I could not be present. I am happy to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Mullen again raised the issue of Cuisle, which has been raised by many Members in recent weeks, in particular Senator Hopkins. Senator Mullen spoke about the decision which was made by the board of the Irish Wheelchair Association. There is a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health this Thursday to discuss the matter. Whatever one's viewpoint, there is a need, an obligation and a duty to support the concerns raised by the families and the service users. To be fair, from talking to Senator Hopkins, I understand the debate at Thursday's committee will frame what happens next. Arising from that, I will come to back to the matter again.
I have offered two dates to the Members who have requested amendments to the Order of Business and I hope they will find them acceptable.
Senator Craughwell proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Taoiseach or the Minister of State with responsibility for defence on the crisis in the emergency air ambulance service be taken at 6.15 p.m. today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I need to ask if the Leader is offering the Taoiseach on Thursday, given he is the Minister for Defence, or the Minister of State.
I think Senator Craughwell knows the answer to the question. The Minister of State was here already today, by the way, on a Commencement matter. To be fair, other Senators shared Commencement matters in previous weeks on other issues, for example, Lyric FM. I am offering the Minister of State with responsibility, Deputy Kehoe.
Then I will push the amendment.
To be helpful, Senator Wilson made the comment about the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach has been here every year since his election and it is my intention to put that request to him to come to the House. It may not be before Christmas but we will endeavour to have him come to the House as part of that.
On a point of order, and it is an actual point on the Order of Business-----
That would be a first around here.
I am aware. I am usually the one to point out they are not. On the Order of Business, will we be getting one hour and 30 minutes from now for statements on public service broadcasting or are we adjourning at 6.15 p.m.?
No, it is to adjourn at 6.15 p.m.
I ask that the Leader would amend the Order of Business to give us one hour and 30 minutes.
The debate can adjourn.
I proposed on the Order of Business that the debate will adjourn and will not conclude today.
Is the proposal acceptable to Senator Craughwell?
I am afraid not. I will push it to a vote.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Devine, Máire
- Gavan, Paul.
- Hackett, Pippa.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- McDowell, Michael.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Conway, Martin.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
Senator Humphreys has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on the funding of local government be taken today." Is this amendment being pressed?
To co-operate with the Leader in regard to the business of the House, I am going to withdraw the amendment. However, I will possibly reinstate that amendment at a later stage, depending on when the vote takes place in Dublin City Council.
That will be open to the Senator on another day. The amendment is withdrawn.